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Published: 2007/07/22
by Josh Potter

Joint Happening – Mushroom with Eddie Gale

Joint Happening – Mushroom with Eddie Gale, Hyena Records

Yesterday, I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers – Alison Faith Levy with Mushroom, 4Zero Records

Forty years since the Summer of Love, Mushroom may be the best and truest extension of San Francisco psychedelia since the Bay Area became the place to wear a flower in one's hair. But don't be fooled: this ain't your momma's Quicksilver Messenger Service. Despite a healthy portion of good-old-fashioned hippie nostalgia, Mushroom's roots run deep in the arcane catacombs of psych-rock, Krautrock, free jazz, and freak folk. Some call it "freak jazz," but as their pair of recent releases demonstrate, genres — like lava lamps — are best served aqueous and hot to the touch.

More constellation than celestial body, the band charts its orbit around drummer/producer/founder Pat Thomas. Since 1997's 25-minute epic The Reeperbahn, culled from ten hours of raw material, the band has made patience their calling card. With most tracks clocking in at around ten minutes, the sound is unabashedly jammy. Simple themes materialize, fuse, crossbreed and procreate before dissolving just the same. It’s an approach that weaker bands would (and do) let meander, but with patience, restraint, and expansive space, Mushroom remains focused and so earns its badge as a collective of true chops musicians. They’ve done their homework, beefed up their Rolodex, and enlisted the support of some of the most critical figures in the styles they look to channel.

Multi-instrumentalist Erik Pearson hails from the Crazy Horse camp, while saxophonist Ralph Carney has been a mainstay with Tom Waits, Mark Ribot, and the B-52's. Percussionist Dave Mihaly backs Jolie Holland, and guitarist Josh Pollock made his name with John Cale, Flea, and the hybrid psych project Acid Mothers Gong.

On Joint Happening, Mushroom invites legendary avant-jazz trumpeter Eddie Gale on stage and in the studio for a collection of live and studio tracks, seamlessly engineered into one magnum opus. Having recorded with Cecil Taylor, Larry Young, and Sun Ra’s Arkestra (not to mention his own Blue Note titles Black Rhythm Happening, and Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music), Gale helps Mushroom conjure fusion-era Miles Davis. Complete with jingle bells and xylophone, tracks like the 18-minute "I Was Torn Down at the Dance Place – Shaved Head at the Organ" trade Davis’ cocaine-fueled frenzy for a more contemplative, psilocybin meditation.

With blues chanteuse Alison Faith Levy, Yesterday, I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers finds the band in its strongest suit — spare Krautrock that swirls and undulates like an oil projection. Having worked with members of Soft Machine, Faust, and Tortoise, Mushroom is at its best weaving broad swatches of sound for Levy to dapple with wails and lyrical fragments. More than just a front-woman, Levy lends her voice to the band much in the way that Gale lends his horn — as an economically inserted surface texture, responsive as it is guiding. "Gas, Grass or Ass — Nobody Rides For Free" seems the only blatant pratfall; on an album tender enough to include the background clatter of billiard balls at a bar gig, this half-hearted Mellotron groove slips over the line into rickety territory.

While not exactly ecstatic, Mushroom's brand of psychedelia finds a place for contemporary melancholia amid its climaxing freak-outs. Since blind optimism wrought the fall of hippy idealism and the rise of reactionist irony, this may be Mushroom's greatest attribute. Plenty of bands posture transcendence, but few are willing to confront the complex reality of the eternity they probe. Neo-futuristic what-have-you, when Mushroom freaks out, they mean it.

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