We all know where Steve Mackay went, him being a member of the Stooges and all. One has to figure that his way out tenor honking on L.A. Blues was the initial serving of Out Jazz for many a music fan, myself included. It was really cool to see that he spent his last years being recognized and lauded for his talents. As far as Disaster Amnesiac can tell, the decades between the Stooges initial moves and their eventual renaissance were lean for Mackay. Is this the case?
Originally released in an extremely limited vinyl edition (26 copies!?), Tunnel Diner has been given a much wider potential audience on this digital release from Muteant, and hopefully Mackay's sounds find their way into many more peoples' ears that way!
Starting off with Brooklyn, North Carolina, Mackay leads the charge with some very soulful phrasing which indeed blends the urban intensity often blown through the tenor saxophone with gritty countrified accents. As Disaster Amnesiac has listened, I've thought over and over and this sound being a prime example of the Harmelodic approach to music. This is not to say that it's at all academic sounding: we find some really juicy Jazz playing therein. Steve gets some really funky backing from what sounds like steel drums, which add even more sweetness to the nectar as they pair with slamming Funk rhythms from the drums and bass.
The drums switch to a kind of tribal pounding feel for Bohunk Lane. Wah wah bass and odd electronics skitch and skitter atop this drum maelstrom, a second line at Burning Man before Steve and another reed man (sorry, scant credits on the Bandcamp page), intertwine their horn riff, one of them eventually taking a short solo before the whole thing gets clipped off rather abruptly.
Mackay and his partner kick off Sans Frontiers with more of that great duo exchange, longer held notes being framed by electronics and Free drumming. Wordless vocalizing enters into the mix as the group kicks off into more of their energetic weaving, the group eventually getting kicked into overdrive by intense guitar chords. It would indeed be tough to put a fence around improvisations made up of energy levels this high.
The Frontier leads to a short interlude called Patrick's Brain Aneurysm where bells and snare rolls get tenor sax smears and mourning hollers before ending up at place of pure solo energy from Mackay. The saxophonist lays it out emotionally naked and intimate, pairing sax tones with sighs and moans.
Side A of Tunnel Diner concludes with Mixed Martial Language. A rolling drum line, more steel drums, bass guitar ostinato and wiggy sax lines lead up to some cathartic vocalizing from a contrite lyric from a dude that want's the listener to know that he's "trying". Disaster Amnesiac is glad to let into this crazed confessional, despite being a bit nervous at the emotional intimacy of it.
One thing that strikes Disaster Amnesiac as I've moved from side A to B on Tunnel Diner is that the band sounds as if they're getting a lot more warm, midway through this set. Canal Street opens the side with some intricately honked tenor from Mackay, paired with electronic whisps before the steel drums strike up again, quickly followed by thick percussive maelstrom; all of this action pushes Steve into some passionate shredding, his voice going all manic and insistent.
This energy persists into 200,000 Sax Players In Nashville as the electric bass rolls, the percussion tumbles, and the sax offers up more of those fine voices that give off heavy Blues vibes.
These two pieces serve as introductions to the the LP's title track, in which the entire rhythm sections gels into a heavy marching tempo, as Tunnel Diner's surreal second line pushes Mackay to summon up the Pharaoh. The physical impact of his notes spread out from the speakers and push the ears around a bit before syncopating beautifully with the rest of the group. A bonkers, funky bass line pushes Soul to spare and, naturally, the group responds accordingly.
As more of those shards of electronics take Tunnel Diner out, they lead to a bit more of an introspective, ESP-Disk place for Tu Croire C'Est Gratuit???. Paired horns moan and mourn a bit on this one, giving Disaster Amnesiac thoughts of spiritual services in some doomed domicile. Eventually the guitar pushes the playing out into more rhythmic bump and grind: hands clap, cymbals pop, ring modulators whirr, and before too long the group is back on Bourbon St., kicking butt and flashing on high.
Naturally, it makes sense for the group to blast off from Sun Ra's confining planet (not Saturn, hint hint) to take things out, and out they certainly do with Voyage To Arcturus. The Radon Ensemble scrawls, beeps, blips, honks, and pounds on the tune, truly sounding at one point as they're more of a rocket engine than a group of mere Jazz men. A powerful sendoff, and, yes Space IS the Place for these dudes.
Presumably pleasing to Free Jazz heads and/or headbangers of the Stooge-ian stripe, Steve Mackay and the Radon Ensemble's Tunnel Diner is a fiery and powerful document of a legendary player, doing his thing, no holds barred and ripping. Disaster Amnesiac is sad that I never got to see this group play live. I suspect that this one will stay in my rotation for a good long while.