William Hooker
Oasis of Whispers (Lee Ranaldo and Glen Hall) Alien8 http://www.tinymixtapes.com//sites/default/files/arton5452_0.jpg

[Alien8; 2005]

Rating: 2/5 2 / 5 (0)

Styles: free jazz, avant-rock, east coast b.s.
Others: Hamid Drake, Joe Baiza, Bill Frisell


http://media.tinymixtapes.com/

It must be nice to have labels dying to release everything you spit on. I'm not dissing any of the members of Sonic Youth and their infinite side projects. Despite their age and many of their peers drifting pretty damn close to the dinosaur rock category, Sonic Youth members manage to retain their integrity and release music that's interesting enough. Let's face it, Mike Watt and Joe Baiza's current project, Unknown Instructors, sounds like old men trying to rehash the past. Sure, The Pixies impressed us when they reunited, but after a year plus of touring off old material, I'm getting ready to lump them in with The Steve Miller Band. Sonic Youth certainly deserves their stature and we should feel lucky that through them a 14 year old may become interested in Karlheinz Stockhausen, Arthur Doyle, or William Hooker.

Here we have the umpteenth collaboration between Lee Ranaldo, New York jazz legend William Hooker, and fill in the blank (in this case Toronto's jazz/avant-garde composer, Glen Hall). If you've heard them play together before then there are few surprises in these free-jazzesque improvisations. William Hooker ranges from gracefully dancing over the other's sonic meandering, to beating his drums in a thunderous rage. Glen Hall's various wind instruments and passionate, focused playing is by far the most interesting element here. He gives the music direction and saves it from being a total bore. Lee Ranaldo's guitar work, text/sound collages, and effects do little more than provide a sonic ambience for Hooker and Hall to play over. Unfortunately, when he is trying to play a dominant role in this music, it intrudes on what the other two are doing. Thankfully, Ranaldo and Hooker's neo-beatnik, "safe for the 90s" spoken word is absent from this release.

With the exception of their Sonny Rollins cover, "Blue Seven," these pieces just glide from moment to moment without much of an overall goal. Playing spontaneously and going where the music takes you in the moment can be a great thing, and although their music doesn't have to have any greater purpose, it rarely sounds like these musicians are connecting at all. There are some interesting moments but they usually sound like a result of coincidence rather than player communication. Too often, I sit wishing that a killer soloist like Jemeel Moondoc or Gato Barbieri circa 1970 would come in and make a drastic statement on top of this trio's bed of sound. While I don't mean to suggest that any of these fellas are bad improvisers, this recording does not best represents what any of them are capable of.

My main complaint about them can be applied to most people who have the facilities to have everything they do widely distributed. Robert Pollard can still write amazing pop songs, but the ratio of crap to quality has changed now that there's always somebody to release any of it. If you're a huge fan of these prolific types, it can feel great to hear every morsel of a person's consciousness. It's like making pencil marks on a wall to measure a child's growth. But when you're dying to hear perfection and only getting mediocrity, spending money on the same artist every month can also be hugely frustrating. Since two thirds of this unit is coming from a jazz background where endless documentation is quite common, perhaps it seems foolish to criticize them for releasing every session and line-up change. Still, they sound like aging musicians treading water, not pushing themselves to do anymore than what they're capable of.

So who's going to listen to this anyway? Living in L.A., I've been frequenting Aron's Records during its going out of business sale and have noticed that even at 50% off, no one is willing to take a chance on this (not to mention the several other Hooker/Ranaldo collaborations sitting in their bins). Between a plethora of new improvisers making the scene as well as other prolific old school jazz cats, jazz fanatics already have plenty to keep up with and this shouldn't seem all that necessary. Sonic Youth/Lee Ranaldo compleatists may miss this release when it's sitting in the jazz section at stores (or maybe this review pissed them off, making them determined to buy and like it just to prove us pretentious writers wrong). Whether people are listening or not, this live document from 2001 is preserved for the ages and only reminds us that these are great players, capable of much better things.

1. Mechanism, The
2. Eyemote
3. Blue Seven
4. Conference Call
5. H2
6. Sonarisme
7. View From Bellevue
8. Oasis Of Whispers
9. Blow


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