13 Themes For A Triskaidekaphobic – Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet
When an editor at jambands.com asked if I was interested in reviewing the
Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet’s 13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic, I said to
myself "Sure, why not? I’ve reviewed CDs by people I have never heard of in
the past, this shouldn’t be all that different." Then I did a little bit of
research, and a feeling began to grow inside me that this album would be way
stranger than most in my collection. And when the CD arrived, the sensation
in my gut was confirmed. The music on this album was as obtuse as could be,
and I had a hard time listening to it, at first.
Jeff Kaiser hails from Ventura, California, and is one of the most revered
names in that state’s avant-garde music scene. He is a classically trained
composer and trumpet player, and when he is not busy teaching music to pay
the bills, he runs the pfMENTUM record label, which concentrates on sonic
experimentation and the weird in music.
Kaiser’s main role in this project is as a conductor. And the first task of
any good conductor is to surround himself with skilled players, which Kaiser
has done quite satisfactorily, hand-picking members of Los Angeles’s small
but potent improvisational music scene to be in his Ockodektet. That’s
eighteen musicians, plus Kaiser, lending their chops to the record. That’s a
lot of people on stage at one time, a lot of sound being produced. With that
many players, the problem arises that there is just too much going on and
musical virtuosity is lost in a blast of noise.
You see, I like improvisational music as much as all those that are reading
this. But I tend to like a little structure in my jams, a launchpad for a
band to set off into the unknown realm of improvisation. There is structure
here, but it is of a much more cerebral nature than the compositions
incorporated by most jambands. Though it may be difficult to believe on
first listen, Jeff Kaiser has put much thought into this album, especially
the title and the names of its "songs."
For those of you who don’t know, a person with triskaidekaphobia is someone
is scared of the number 13. There are 13 "songs" on the album (the term is
used extremely loosely in this context, as the tracks seem to be cut at
random spots rather than fully containing structured, cohesive songs), and
the CD’s running length is 73:13: one hour, 13 minutes and 13 seconds.
Implications of bad luck aside, Kaiser seems to be infatuated with the
number, further from a Triskaidekaphobic it would be difficult to be.
And then there are the titles, all of which reference Lawrence Sterne’s
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, an obscure novel
written in 1799 that lampooned the memoirs of 17th century English nobility.
How Kaiser decided which track of avant-garde noise would be called "Gravity
Was an Errant Scoundrel" and which would be titled "A Thousand of My
Father’s Most Sublime Syllogisms" is beyond me, but all of the titles are
The music is, too. There is the big sound of many instruments, as well as
soft notes played by individual instruments and groups of players. The
recorded was recorded live at the Ventura City Hall with a recording setup
that taper geeks would be ashamed to call their own, so the muddiness of the
music is added upon by the inferior sound quality of the master tapes.
Kaiser did take the time to clean up the sound, but the overall impression
left by 13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic is a messy one. The project
itself is extremely ambitious, though in practice it is hard to produce
anything melodic, or even concrete, with this many people playing freely in
an improvisational setting.