Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet – Skerik
Ropeadope Records 93183-2
Anyone who has been paying attention lately knows that Skerik is a
one-of-a-kind musician. Employing bizarre effects and an off-kilter sense
of humor, he is quite fearless onstage. This saxophonist's tremendous
talents have recently reached national audiences through his frequent
sit-ins with Galactic, his notable performances with Les Claypool's Flying
Frog Brigade, and his membership in the supergroup, Garage a Trois.
However, before Skerik became a household name, he led several unique and
strange musical outfits in Seattle.
One of these odd side-projects, Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet was
captured live in a performance at Seattle's The Owl & Thistle on September
25, 2002. Taking their strange moniker from Prohibition czar and
marijuana-hater Harry J. Anslinger's code name for the jazz music he
detested and distrusted, the group is full of adventurous musicians who are
eager to push Skerik to the limit.
As the album begins with the herky-jerky sounds of "Freakus Piniatus," the
listener gets the sense that a solid hour of free jazz lies ahead.
Thankfully, drummer John Wicks introduces a funky rhythm as the second
track, "Philadelphia," begins, and the four saxophones team with Dave
Carter's trumpet to intone a wailing figure. Over the course of eight
minutes, the song drops into a nice pocket of funkiness then out into a
full-on acid jazz freakout before resolving in a sparse interplay between
the horns. Make no mistake, every sound here is undeniably strange, the
hallmark of Skerik.
Just when the listener is confident that the entire album will consist of
weird sonic excursions, "Let Me Be Your Voodoo Doll" comes to the rescue.
Probably the most well-written chart on the album, the song evokes Duke
Ellington's "Caravan," but it bubbles beneath a steady New Orleans swing.
Suddenly, the group is as tight as a classic big band, and Skerik has plenty
of space to develop a long and flowing solo. His fellow horn players oblige
by tossing in several short riffs that launch him into a ferocious climax.
The tunes on the rest of the album are rather deceptive. At the start, the
songs employ a very accessible style, such as the 1960s Go-Go theme music of
"Too Many Toys," the lazy hip groove of "Bus Barn," and the cool but
uplifting torch-song of "They Did What To You." As time passes, Skerik and
his bandmates gradually build the momentum until the listener unsuspectingly
finds himself in the midst of a full-on raging instrumental breakdown.
Conversely, songs like "Christina" and "Morphine" begin as thunderous
oddball compositions before eventually dissolving into more straightforward
grooves. In both cases, the final result is equally surprising and
enjoyable, like realizing that your punch has been spiked but being too
drunk to care.
On the whole, Skerik’s Syncopated Taint Septet has a little of
something for everyone. Those who want to hear Skerik and company wig-out
and go completely crazy will certainly get their wish. Those who want to
hear tight compositions and intricate instrumentation will not be
disappointed. It's a fine line to walk, but Skerik staggers back-and-forth
across it with ease and abandon.