In 1869, one year before Isidore Ducasse died at the age of 24, he published Les Chants Du Maladoro
, a dark work in which one man's merciless rebellion against God exploits and exposes children, angels, hermaphrodites, whores, pederasts, sadists, and lunatics alike. The prose poem became an inspiration for the emerging surrealist movement as much for its subversive subject matter as for its unsettling metaphors and abrupt shifts in narrative perspective. So inflamed were Salvador Dali and André Breton that they championed the unknown dead poet throughout their lives. Now, 130 years later, much remains unknown about the young author who published under the name Comte de Lautréamont. Off-center artists continue to rediscover and draw inspiration from his strange and seminal work, but only rarely does a creative scion of Maladoro
live up to the name. The most recent release by avant-garde composer Eric Friedlander
is such an exception. Entirely improvised, each piece on Friedlander's Maladoro
is based on a short section of text chosen by producer Michael Montes and given to Friedlander only once he was inside the recording studio. To Friedlander's credit and our reward, the seasoned improviser eschews overdubs and re-takes, depending on naught but the dark, organic tones of his cello and moments of deep, dilapidated silence to articulate Ducasse's black humor and fecund imagery. As with the original written work, the effect is both profoundly beautiful and disquieting. "i ... am ... filthy," an improvisation based on a moment in Ducasse's poem when the protagonist describes the corruption of his flesh -- "I am filthy. Lice gnaw me Swine, when they look at me, vomit. The scabs and sores of leprosy have scaled my skin, which is coated with yellowish pus." -- begins with a barely perceptible drone that builds and roils in the mire like a swamp snake while plucked strings dance innocently across the oily surface. This gothic horror gives way to "flights ... of ... starlings," in which a complex flurry of notes forms, as Ducasse's writes, an "agitated whirlpool whose whole mass, without following a fixed course, seems to have a general wheeling movement round itself." The second to last piece, "he ... contemplates ... the ... moon," is a simple, mournful serenade that surrenders to the percussive industry of "a ... sewing ... machine ... and ... an ... umbrella." Given Friedlander's penchant for the aural vanguard, Maladoro
is exceptionally accessible. Never does he yield to the temptation of atonal abstractions; instead he uses the textures of his instrument to maintain a strong sense of Ducasse's narrative. Rarely in his collaborations with the likes of John Zorn, Dave Douglas, or Laurie Anderson, or in his own work with Chimera and Topaz, has the profundity of his skill been so grim, auriferous, and evident. Eric Friedlander will perform selections from Maladoro
along with works by John Zorn, Eric Dolphy, Dave Brubeck, and others on Friday, June 11 at the Jazz House; call (510) 846-9432 or visit www.thejazzhouse.com
Anyone who has been privy to a masterful DJ set by "Bootie" collaborators Adrian or Mysterious D knows the artistry, acuity, and chemistry required in the blending of eras and layering of genres within the same refrain. Not every combination works, but when it does, it's alchemical. While recently consigned to the stale genre of "loungecore," Hanging with the Balls, the sultry, swanky, and, ultimately, clever debut release by Portland's Storm & the Balls, owes more to the spirited impulse of mash-ups than it does to the traditional jazz medley. The album opens with "Star Strangled Pusherman," a flawless and, for the first time in my opinion, inspiring rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" that morphs into Curtis Mayfield's "Pusher Man," with some lyrical allusion to the Kinks' "Destroyer" thrown in. The song, performed entirely in the style of a top-tier uptown cocktail band, might be something of a surprise to old fans of the former San Francisco hard rock singer Storm Large, but it's a great display of her abilities -- from her awe-inspiring breath control and vocal range to her sophisticated phrasing and original interpretations of the familiar. It is also a fine introduction to her new band -- Everclear alum Davey Nipples on bass and James Beaton on piano with Motherlode's Brian Parnell on drums -- which grew out of a giggle two years ago and into one of the most popular acts in Portland. Large had retreated to Portland after becoming disenchanted and disgusted with the music business as a whole, but when a monthly slot opened up at the small nightclub where she bartended, she decided she was ready to have some fun. While the band, which includes a freakish, wonderful jazz medley of Bauhaus, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, and the Cure in its repertoire, started as a joke, the music is not. This is not parody, but reinterpretation -- "Anarchy in the UK" presented as Latin jazz, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" blended smoothly with Sir Mix A Lot's "Baby Got Back," Billy Idol's "White Wedding" united with Led Zepplin's "In the Light," Olivia Newton John's "Hopelessly Devoted to You" given a new depth of psychosis. And while the strongest song on the album remains Large's own original "I Want You to Die," performing other people's material has brought levity and sparkle to Large's formidable passion. She skats and coos, snarls and croons, playing with her voice and her identity in ways that her sexed-up rock thug personae did not fully allow. In no longer trying to impress the music reps, Large has become truly impressive. Storm & the Balls perform on Tuesday, June 15 at Bottom of the Hill; call 621-4455 or visit www.bottomofthehill.com.