Thursday, June 11, 2015

Last Exit - Iron Path (Virgin, 1988; ESP, 2015)

Last Exit was one of the most interesting jazz groups to emerge from the 1980’s. Saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson made up a who’s who of the avant-garde during this period, and this is their only studio album in addition to half a dozen live LP’s and some youtube videos. So what makes album different than all of the other records is that it isn’t just pedal to the floor free jazz, but something rather different. Yes, they stoke up the blast furnace every bit as can be imagined, but there is much more air and spaciousness in the music, a sense of brooding calm. The music often has the lurking fear of a really well made horror movie, one that doesn’t rely on the cheap thrills but in pacing, light and shadow. “The Black Bat (For Aki Ikuta)” builds a gradual groove with shards of guitar arcing through the music like heat lightning. Laswell’s bass is thick, and bounces around the confines of the tune while Brotzmann bides his time until past the half way point when he develops a boiling solo that phases out inexplicably, because nothing is as it seems. This into segues into the truly disturbing “Marked For Death” with evil bass and drums rolling along making way for the pain train of Sharrock and Brotzmann at full throttle for only a few seconds. The brevity of the piece reminds me of a John Zorn Naked City construct. The plodding heavy metal stomp of “Detonator” gets short bursts of electric guitar across its bow and some devastating short blasts of Peter Brotzmann’s saxophone. Laswell’s very “eighties” sounding bass guitar makes a very unusual but interesting funk/free/metal sound to it. “Cut and Run” is just devastating – Jackson is amazing while playing at incredible speed and dexterity along with just with the solos and shading of Sharrock and Brotzmann’s hellfire saxophone, this is two and a half minutes of wonder. Massive wails of reverberating saxophone on “Eye for an Eye” certainly sound like punishment and Brotzmann builds them into scalding hellfire, with concrete slabs of bass riding along as the music becomes absolutely ferocious. Finally, “The Devil’s Rain” has some wonderfully uptempo guitar and drums, everyone comes together for a collective improvisation much like they would do in concert. The studio production sounds a little off, but there’s really nothing that can contain this band in full flight. Believe it or not, this was released by Virgin Records, and then dropped like a brick – out of print for seventeen years. Kudos to ESP for putting back into print a lost and misunderstood album that does not fit into any one category of music and is all the better for it. Iron Path -

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