Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Send This Sound to the King is the second CD from saxophonist Alex Weiss and Outhead.  They are an arthouse quartet blending the free-minded jazz of Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp and Roland Kirk with the post-beat sounds of the Lounge Lizards and Morphine. It will be released onOctober 14 on Chahatatadra Music.

The group - alto/tenor saxophonist Alex Weiss, baritone saxophonist Charlie Gurke, double-bassist Rob Woodcock and drummer Dillon Westbrook - has a low-slung, roughhewn aesthetic that's equal parts free-jazz and art-punk, brimming over with vim and vigor.  Guest guitarist Peter Galub provides spiky six-string atmosphere to several tracks, and multiple voices are heard, male and female. Send This Sound to the King is the sound of both edge and allure.

Outhead - the quartet of alto/tenor saxophonist Alex Weiss and baritone saxophonist Charlie Gurke with double-bassist Rob Woodcock and drummer Dillon Westbrook - pursues a low-slung, roughhewn aesthetic that's equal parts free-jazz and art-punk, brimming over with vim and vigor. Outhead's second album - Send This Sound to the King, to be released October 14, 2014 via Chahatatadra Music - juxtaposes catchy melody and swinging grooves, headlong caterwaul and dreamy spoken word. Guest guitarist Peter Galub provides spiky six-string atmosphere to several tracks, and multiple voices are heard, male and female. Send This Sound to the King is the sound of both edge and allure.

Outhead's new album is the follow-up to the band's 2008 release, Quiet Sounds for Comfortable People, which was a favorite of Downtown Music Gallery's Bruce Gallanter for its "inventive dynamics" and "fabulous groove." He heard a kinship with Ornette Coleman's two-sax band with Dewey Redman, while Weiss lists Archie Shepp and Roland Kirk as further references, for both their stentorian roar and the theatricality of their '60s work. The sly humor and sheer accessibility of Send This Sound to the King makes Outhead akin to John Lurie's iconic downtown New York band the Lounge Lizards, while rock fans may even hear echoes of the baritone-driven, post-Beat stylings of vintage indie-rock trio Morphine at times. Yet for all its hip influences and antecedents, Outhead is above all an individualist outfit, playing music that isn't quite like anything else out there.

During its Bay Area beginnings, Outhead rocked store fronts and improvised soundtracks to nature films, along with playing the coolest clubs. With band catalyst and Send This Sound to the King producer Alex Weiss now resident in Brooklyn, Outhead operates on both coasts; basic tracking was done by the quartet in Oakland, with Weiss overseeing overdubs in New York. Weiss was a protégé of free-jazz pioneer John Tchicai and a longtime member of the ensemble at the famed St. John Coltrane Church in San Francisco. What he learned at the elbow of Tchicai helped feed his philosophy for Outhead. Weiss says: "John Tchicai had a level of playing and feeling music that was very high, but he had this great open-mindedness about playing with all kinds of people, valuing real connection between musicians. He was also out to push the envelope in terms of sound - he always felt that experimentation was essential to an artist's growth. Those are the sorts of values that Outhead is about."

The loud, raw energy of punk rock was another keen influence on the ideas of the young Weiss about what a band could sound like. By the time he ingested his first free-jazz album - New York Eye & Ear Control, with Tchicai, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray - "it made perfect sense to me," he says. "Free-jazz and punk rock shared a primal sonic energy. I also felt a kinship between punk and free-jazz in that they were both about standing your ground about what you think is right - aesthetically, socially, politically. Both genres took a firm stance against the conventional wisdom of the majority view. I eventually figured out that I could translate the energy of punk to my saxophone and ideas about the unconventional to a jazz band."

If the captivating blend of Weiss and Charlie Gurke's saxophones sounds like second nature, it's because the two musicians have played together in myriad ensembles over the years, from a big band to a saxophone quartet, and even salsa groups. "We tag-team together really well with our lines and improvisation," Weiss says. "Without keyboard or guitar, we're free of any harmonic constraints and can be really inventive melodically, and harmonically. Our compositions complement each other, too, I think, with Charlie's more rooted in jazz tradition and mine a bit more unorthodox. We're lucky to have this hard-grooving, heavy-hitting rhythm section to play over. Rob and Dillon are a real opposites-attract combination, with this Wagner enthusiast of a bass player meets a construction worker-poet as a drummer. But they're like bedrock together."

Weiss leaves it up to that drummer, Dillon Westbrook, to sum up Outhead: "The band is a bit of a happy accident, as all four members come to the core idea of chord-less quartet from different places: Alex from long association with various acoustic improvisers on both coasts; Charlie from study of a wide range of music, including the tradition of saxophone quartet composition and arranging; Rob from straight-ahead jazz, classical music and his studies with Mark Dresser; and me from growing up on 1980s and '90s New York downtown music, along with noisecore and straight-ahead jazz. Somehow or other, the configuration of Ornette Coleman's second great band, with Dewey Redman replacing Don Cherry, became a charmed meeting place for us. The group managed to mold its own identity within this framework, bringing out the best of each of us."

Outhead's second album kicks off beautifully with the majestic, melody-rich "Ode to John Denver, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Death," a woozy rubato spiritual by Weiss in a classic Albert Ayler mode, with a droning foundation of harmonium and arco bass for an East-meets-West feel. Next comes "The Chairman," a laconically catchy tune by Gurke that's blessed by Woodcock's grooving, textured bass playing and guest electric guitar by Peter Galub, who lends a rock'n'roll feel to the track - particularly with his fantastically wild, wailing solo near the end. Weiss' "The Palimpsest" makes a nod to John Zorn's Masada songbook; the composer's alto leads with the faintly Middle Eastern melody and a cry in his tone, though Gurke's baritone soon entwines serpentine around it for their characteristic sax blend.

"Glass Houses and Gift Horses" is a headlong rocker by Weiss, with a deceptively sophisticated form. The composer plays tenor, while Gurke's solo takes advantage of multiphonic effects and the overtones possible on the baritone. Westbrook, who has a Masters in Fine Arts degree in poetry, wrote the music and verses for the artfully produced soundscape "A Made Truth," with the sexual subtext of the words made plain in the initial sly recitation by Sarah Horashek and then undercut oddly and humorously by Eunjin Park's less-native way with the same lyrics. "Trotsky" is a groovy free-bop number by Charlie in the early Ornette Coleman manner, the harmolodic icon being a prime influence on every member of the band. The album's offbeat closer, "Uncle Ho," features music by Charlie and words by Alex, with a chorus of women's voices taking a key role. Roland Kirk's Volunteered Slavery is a key influence here, though with more demented humor in the words than political fire. The sound of Alex and Charlie's twinned saxophones is a textural highlight, as on the entire album.

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