Over the last few months, I've become a big fan of the magazine Waxpoetics. Thanks to my pal Max Sidman, who suggested I check out the magazine and it's amazing contents, I've been reconnecting to several musical styles and approaches that I'd become unnecessarily jaded about. Along with it's amazingly detailed coverage of of all things Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Dub, and Fusion, Waxpoetics sometimes features a column entitled Left Field Americana, in which writers describe strange recordings that they've unearthed during their record digging expeditions. It's a great column, and I'm continually inspired by the descriptions of obscure records and unknown musicians that it features. Of course, being an obsessive compulsive geek myself, I find it necessary to try and find and hear as many of the strange gems LFA describes as possible; this has proven to be quite a challenge, as these records are seriously rare. It kind of makes me want to move to NYC, or Amsterdam!
One featured group that I have been able to find recordings by is the duo of Doug Snyder and Bob Thompson, whose early 1970's LP Daily Dance was given serious props in one LFA column. Said column's description of it as something like Fushitsusha recorded in the 1970's was enough to make me squirm in my office chair, mouse clicking like a fiend in order to find a copy somewhere. Daily Dance is one rare motherfucker, but, happily for my ears, Snyder and Thompson's more recent The Rules of Play is much more easily accessed, and it's great, too.
The Rules of Play is made up of three tracks, starting out with the 45 minute long title song. The duo start out playing a simple call and response phrase between guitar and drums, and within a minute and a half launch into the meat of the piece. There are plenty of exchanges, plenty of changes that take place within Rules of Play. As with other long improv pieces, it seems to work best when close attention is payed to the rhythmic interplay of the players and the melodic invention that arises from it. The pace is at times relaxed and at times more frenetic as the players wind their way down the tune's long path. Snyder uses looping devices to set up drone figures, and then both he and Thompson go balls-out or blissed out over the top of them. The guitar has kind of a "processed" sound, but the soloing is of a gritty enough nature as to keep from floating away from earth entirely. Doug plays really well in response to the calls of his duo partner throughout. The drumming is kind of Rock, kind of Free Jazz, and always highly rhytmic and inventive. Thompson never falls into the "deep listening" trap that plagues a lot of Fusion drummers, instead opting to sound like Rashid Ali or Elvin Jones if they'd been sitting in with King Crimson. Bob mixes things up between the drums and cymbals with great balance, too.
The remainder of the recording is comprised of two pieces, They Would Not Be Turned Away and The Inertia of Youth. Both feature Snyder on organ along with the percussion of Thompson. Both tunes are played in the same contemplative/improvised manner as the title track. Thompson's s drumming sets up center stage, really a lead instrument playing over top the melodic beds set up by Snyder. He taps, crashes and rolls around nicely. These two remind me a lot of the Terry Riley/John Cale collaboration that was released in the 1970's. It has the same drone-ey/psyche feel as that one.
The Rules of Play works really well for me as early morning listening, but I can see how it would be fine as late late night chill/fright soundtrack, too. I find it inspiring and hopeful that there are musicians out there with this kind of approach. My America is peopled with folks like Snyder and Thompson, making joyous or rowdy noise just for the hell of it, documenting it just in case anyone else cares, but not caring too much if they don't. If anyone out there in cyberspace reads this blog, and has a copy of Doug Snyder and Bob Thompson's debut LP, please contact me. I'd love to get a copy.