Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I’ve been meaning to write at least something on this guy for a while. Rudolph Grey is a musician everyone should know about, and a very interesting guy as well. First of all, he’s a white “rock” musician I’d assume to possibly be in his early to mid 50s by now, who made his name firstly playing No Wave destructo tunes w/ Red Transistor (w/ Von Lmo) in the late ‘70s and then switched to a more free-form sound with the Blue Humans in the ‘80s, an outfit featuring various free jazz legends in its troupe, most notably Beaver Harris and Arthur Doyle. Secondly, he’s also a writer and renowned film expert, and indeed wrote the classic Ed Wood bio, Nightmare of Ecstacy, which was then made into the equally excellent Ed Wood movie (Grey is credited), the only watchable flick Tim Burton is ever likely to make. Thirdly, he released a pile of discs on the fantastic New Alliance label, the imprint originally set up by Mike Watt and later purchased/managed by SST (and if anyone has any New Alliance LPs/CDs/7”s sitting around they’d like to get rid of, contact me). OK, and fourthly, finally, I used to be in contact with Grey about 5 years back and he was initially intended as the debut release on Lexicon Devil (the label), but things fell apart when I felt that he was asking for way too much money for a recording (which was nothing compared to what Arthur Doyle asked for at the time), and this was also when the Australian dollar was worth about 48 cents in the US. I’m not knocking Grey, though; he has a right to ask for some bucks after being ripped off by New Alliance, and definitely after the Live In London 1994 CD on Blast First, which he informed me was nothing more than a bootleg, himself not even aware at the time that it was being recorded, let alone to be released on a supposedly “respectable” indie. But anyway, that’s Rudolph…

Incandescence, on the UK label, Shock (which was run by writer/musician Stefan Jaworzyn), is my fave RG pick of the litter, and, temporarily forgetting just how many RG 7”s, LPs and CDs I actually have: Incandescence, Mask Of Light, Clear to Higher Time, To Higher Time, Live In London, Live in NY 1980 and a 7”, I suppose that’s a statement which means something. This is more of a CD-EP – ugh, what a stupid concept – than a full-length recording, since it features only one track which runs for 22:54, but it stands as the best 22 minutes and 54 seconds of sound he ever laid to tape.

The line-up here is Beaver Harris, an on/off member of various Cecil Taylor Units, on drums; Jim Sauter of Borbetomagus on sax; and Grey on guitar, live at CBGBs, June 23rd 1988. Unlike most other RG recordings, his guitar work here has a more “psychedelic” edge which his other albums lack, his New Alliance discs conveying a more jazzy approach Grey took from years of listening to Sonny Sharrock and Ray Russell platters. There’s plenty of echo and phasing, and sure there’s an army of distortion whacked on for good measure, though the murky, low-end nature of the sound works perfectly to his advantage, the song gaining a kind of swirling, enveloping sound as it builds to peaks then slowly unwinds, only to do the same again. I mean, none of his records are bad – not at all, boy-o – but the trebly frenzy and unphasing attack of RG’s music; the guitar, saxophone and drums working ferociously together in an orgiastic commotion of free jazz, improv and noise guitar, can be wearing, and not the kind of tunes likely to get a party of one started. But that’s OK: Rudolph Grey is not party music; it’s music listened to for unique textures and sounds. Now, having said that, I won’t be playing Incandescence at a bash any time soon, though it remains my first choice for when I require some Blue Human Aktion.

Grey has laid low over recent years – or at least I haven’t seen his name pop up anywhere for the entire millennium thus far – and I don’t think a single disc of his currently remains in print (Live in NY 1980, on Audible Hiss, will likely be the easiest one to find, though), but he’s a musician who most definitely does not deserve to be pushed under the musical carpet and forgotten.

1 comment:

Steev Hyooz said...

Are there any Ray Russell albums you could recommend? I only have one and found it pretty tame