Review for two tribute albums – Pachuco Cadaver and The Music of Captain Beefheart Live by Ben Watson

This review was taken from The Wire issue 153 November 1996. Many thanks to James Silberbauer for sending it along.

Engene Chadbourne & Jimmy Carl Black
Pachuco Cadaver

Various Artists
The Music Of Captain Beefheart Live

In June 1993, Eugene Chadbourne and Jimmy Carl Black came to England and toured from Hoxton Square to Hebden Bridge. On route they recorded a session for Radio 3’s Mixing It. Guitarist and banjo player Chadbourne is a product of No Wave, turned around by hearing Derek Bailey. Long ago he recorded three albums of subversively comic free improvisation, then teamed up with John Zorn to tour America playing deranged Country music. Drummer Jimmy Carl Black was a founder member of The Mothers Of Invention, though this is a set of Captain Beefheart covers. According to Black, “Zappa wanted to be avant-garde, or thought he was, but Beefheart was the real thing”.)

This quote appears in a booklet Chadbourne has drawn, summarising Black’s reminiscences. Like the music, at first glance it looks insultingly scrappy and careless (a buyer at G&S Music, the Zappa-oriented mail-order company opined that the whole album was worthless), but it actually confirms the power of Chadbourne’s aesthetic. He dissolves every extraneous consideration, every fetish dear to professionalism, in favour of the communique that matters, and arrives at spidery arabesques of great beauty.

The banjo is to the fore, and many songs become wild, strychnine-spiked work-outs. “I’m Gonna Booglarize You, Baby” is expanded with sitar, didgeridoo and bassoon: an etiolated baroque of scavenger debris. Chadbourne’s version of improv includes huckster comedy, live album asides and lo-fi revelations. It is an essential corrective to the pressure to elevate free improvisation to the art-plinth. The real test is repeated listening, and the album gets better at every play. Beneath the chaos, Chadbourne and Black grasp the structure of the songs and they never make a sound that isn’t fervently felt.

The Music Of Captain Beefheart is played by a posse of Swedes blessed with a virtuosity that is downright scary. Slide guitarist Denny Walley had a tenure in The Magic Band, but it’s the chilling precision of the Morgan Agren / Rolf Hedqvist rhythm section that impresses. There have been many attempts to repeat Beefheart’s ‘impossible’ rhythms, but these musos have got it down so cold it is ludicrous. They have even found a singer, Freddie Wadling who can rumble and warble correctly.

However, like all reproductions, you end up wondering what the point is, merely noting that it lacks the succulent miasma of the original. It would be amusing to see them tour, though: the Swedish Captain Beefheart (in a bill with the Tooting Blind Lemon and The Australian Doors, of course). Chadbourne’s improv/lo-fi approach is the ‘creative’ way to approach Beefheart, subsuming the songs into his own personality. However, by approaching the music so clinically the Swedes unpick it. If there are any composers out there working on Nancarrow-style rhythmic extrapolation, these would be the musicians to use.

– Ben Watson

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