Going with the title ‘punk jazz’ sort of reluctantly, but I think it’s sufficient enough to get the point across. This is skronky jazz backed by a wreckless flair, no hesitation, effusive presence, a touch of pain. The best punk rock feels like it’s about to careen off the rails at any moment, a riveting mess. This stuff does the same. I’ll add links to soundfiles where possible, but this is ’09. You can find anything online, right?
Blowhole – Guerilla Jazz (1994) – An old fave, I posted a few tracks from this one on the WFMU blog some time ago. Fronted by the prolific Jeph Jerman, Blowhole were a long running band who laced their guitar-centric free jazz in scrape and gunk and buzz. Guerilla Jazz contains a deeply depraved version of Ayler’s “Ghosts,” stripped of its folk roots and full of scree, which really typifies what this band is all about.
Ornette Coleman – Body Meta (1976) – I adore this record even though I don’t own a copy, and in fact, this one (along with Dancing in Your Head) sent me into full-on ’70s/’80s Ornette obsession. Someday I’ll write the primer. Released on the Artists House imprint, backed by the band that would soon be called Prime Time, Body Meta comes off as a kind of proto-no wave document, with its jarring funk, double skronk guitars and blaring horn. It’s funny how funky a few of the albums on this list are, a trait of the best no wave stuff as well. Probably the tightest record of the bunch, but it’s a stilted swing, and the record’s abrasiveness is exemplified by a jarring incestuousness of tones (I guess a.k.a. harmolodics). A real freaky winner.
The Geeks – It’s Not About Notes Anymore (1979) – Truth be told, this is the LP that prompted the list. Found at Mutant Sounds, and pretty much in constant rotation since I stumbled over it, The Geeks were a Marin County via SF band of punks with competent jazz chops and the will to completely neglect them. Marked by fade ups/outs on totally free jams, each “tune” on this album is a masterpiece of foaming-at-the-mouth psychedelic improvisation. The lyrics are nonsensical, claustrophobic and manic, adding to the swirling ennui of sax mush. A totally singular document of drooling lunacy. The venerable S-S Records has done a reclamation project of sorts on this band, releasing a couple of archival 7″‘s. Here’s hoping they reish this LP. Highly recommended.
Catalogue – Live Antwerpen 1979 (1979)- The French avant-punk supergroup Catalogue, “fronted” by Jac Berrocal, released a number of records in the late ’70s-early ’80s informed by Euro free jazz abrasiveness and rock moves. I actually prefer this earlier live record to their pièce de résistance, Penetration, due to the length of the songs (two sidelong jams) but both documents are fantastical balls of paranoid energy. Totally unexpected instrumentation, too; I think I heard a glockenspiel.
Blurt – In Berlin (1980) – The new waviest of all these groups, Blurt was a somewhat funky post punk band that fully embraced a twisted kind of jazz (as opposed to the other way around). Blurt’s typical approach is to lay down a disjointed guitar groove, blow honking hell all over it, toss in some frayed and frantic “singing” and repeat. Forever.
Charles ‘Bobo’ Shaw & Human Arts Ensemble featuring Joseph Bowie – P’nk J’zz (1977) – I linked to this album a few days ago, and as mentioned it veers close to the dark funk electric stylings of Miles Davis. The ‘punk’ inherent comes from an utter disregard of form and template. Coming on the tail end of the very bleak and DIY loft jazz scene in 1970s NYC, with a raggedy and strung out vibe, the sound of jazzbos playing for their lives.
Last Exit – Köln (1986) – Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brotzmann together in one band: if this promise doesn’t get your blood racing you’re a shell of a human after all. I like to casually refer to Sharrock as the best guitar player since Hendrix (see Ask the Ages, Guitar, and Black Woman for proof), but Last Exit is where he really captures the lineage in full tilt style. Last Exit is only the pulp of jazz, the refuse. If that makes sense to you, then buy this record. I should also note that this marks drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s 2nd appearance on the punk jazz list (first is Ornette). Coincidence? Hardly.
Blue Humans – Clear to Higher Time (1991) – The most downright metal, and why not, with dueling left channel/right channel guitars and skittering drums, the record that launched a thousand noise bands. With Rudolph Grey, Alan Licht and Tom Surgal (and sometimes joined by Arthur Doyle), what more do you need to know really? It is a post-no wave blast of ethereal scuzz, and you get the feeling it will be playing, somewhere, for all eternity. Originally out on Mike Watt/D. Boon’s label, New Alliance, and produced by Thurston Moore.
Borbetomagus – Snuff Jazz (1988) – Two long tracks of all out sax/sax/guitar assault from 1988. It’s hard to argue that there’s any “rock” in this record at all, just a blaring visceral expulsion of emotion. You know the earth has feelings when you hear music like this. Recently reissued on CD.
Masayuki Takayanagi and New Direction Unit – Mass Hysterism in Another Situation (1983) – Ah, Japan, a land so full of splattering noise and wrecked instruments, nowhere else is psych and punk such a celestial union. It’s a miracle that such a small island could kick up such massive bloody dust. Takayanagi is an axe-wielder of the highest order who started out shredding with sax deity Kaoru Abe in ’70s Tokyo dives, which eventually lead to this early ’80s document of scorched guitars and all out noise. Another instance of a dude who could play forgetting Suzuki and going from his tortured gut. Hysterism indeed.