Henry Kaiser / Charles K. Noyes / Weasel Walter Ninja Star Danger Rock

[ugExplode; 2011]

Styles: free rock, brutal prog
Others: Toy Killers, Art Jackson’s Atrocity, No Mor Musik, Nondor Nevai

Like minimalism in the visual arts, the term “no wave” was bandied about to unify a number of groups with fairly disparate aesthetics. If one could discuss overarching sensibilities, what differentiated these bands from their brethren and sisters in the (mostly New York) underground were interests in drawing significantly from non-rock sources such as contemporary art music, free-jazz, and non-Western musics, as well as a confrontational presentation running counter to a pervasive ‘cool.’ Of course, unlike minimalism, which was well-represented in galleries and has been revisited in exhibitions and books, many groups associated with no wave tendencies went undocumented or were, at best, little-recorded.

One of the more obscure entries in an already fairly ignored collection of artists was the Toy Killers, primarily centering on the dual percussive attack of Charles K. Noyes and Mark E. Miller, which brought into its late 1970s/early 1980s orbit such luminaries as keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, bassist Bill Laswell, reedman John Zorn, guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, and percussionist/performance artist Paul Burwell. Most of the Toy Killers’ work went unreleased until the 2009 ugExplode release The Unlistenable Years, which presented a slew of archival recordings (an essential set for the no wave collector). In the ensuing decades, Noyes may have been infrequently visible on the grander stage, but he did record and perform with most of the Downtown heavies, as well as making an excellent double LP on Celluloid with guitarist Henry Kaiser and Korean gayaguem player Sang-Won Park titled Invite the Spirit (1984).

Ninja Star Danger Rock reunites Kaiser and Noyes for 11 improvisations featuring ugExplode honcho and guiding force Weasel Walter on six-string electric bass, as well as three appearances by Miller and one piece featuring Bay Area saxophonist John Oswald. The opener, “The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman,” brings Oswald and the core trio together for five minutes of squall, reed-biting flits buoyed by martial surges and alternately tumbling and loping rhythms in absolute dissonance. It’s not ‘pure noise,’ and not all that loud, but the four musicians’ disunity, while seeming to strive for the same ultimate sonic ‘goal,’ is strikingly effective in its self-sabotage. This is followed by a nearly 16-minute trio improvisation, “At This Late Date, The Charleston,” sparked by parallel actions and coagulated randomness. Noyes’ drumming is oppositional — or, rather, on what seems like its own plane at the very least — and yet the whims at the heart of his playing are entirely logical and reactionary.

Kaiser’s buggy feedback at the beginning of the piece, variable in attack (and abetted by Walter’s guttural moans), cues rhythmic clusters that continually subdivide and bounce off of both one another. Where some drummers might flail in an attempt to immediately ratchet the proceedings upward, Noyes lays back, feigns disinterest, and returns to obstinately placing clusters in a ring around the central action. As Kaiser and Walter chip away, the drummer narrows the space between motifs and piles them subtly and clearly. A period of doldrums surfaces six minutes in, and Noyes drops out only to return with a cymbal pattern that builds needling tension and moves the improvisation forward, albeit momentarily. Areas of inactivity and mutual boredom are part of the basic tenor, it seems — the threesome operate between poles of generally decisive action, apparently dictated by the drummer’s pot-stirring and numb, lunkheaded noodling wherein Noyes is basically silent. It’s an odd strategy but the palpable disinterest is subversively curious and frustrating.

“Jazz Daimyo” pits grungy bass thunk and parceled-out shrieks against uneven coppery waves and odd-interval fills toward one of the disc’s more engaging improvisations, Noyes’ looseness reminiscent of a young Milford Graves. Sinewy, electronically distorted guitar weaves and crunches its way through meandering bass and drum pummeling on “Oh Bomb!,” an example of aggressively non-conversational group playing. At an hour’s worth of music, Ninja Star Danger Rock is a bit overstuffed, especially as some of the improvisations are barely tenable. Obnoxious, brutish, and often engaged in a futile tug of war, this trio has waxed a set of musical irritants that, if not lovable, at least command winking respect.

Links: ugExplode

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