Sunday, March 19, 2017

Swiss Bang Account

This brain-frying show was coming up on its 30th birthday, and a DIMEaDenizen who'd been reseeding various concerts -- all featuring a viscerally immortal axemaster: the late Sonny Sharrock (my personal favorite guitar player of all time) -- asked for a re-up of this complete performance. It's the Ginger Baker-led "African Force" percussion ensemble that immediately precedes his "No Material" project from the Spring of 1987. Guesting is the aforementioned six-string samurai Mr. Sharrock, who supplies frenzy and fury to the proceedings all by his lonesome, atop a jungle-thicket forest's worth of percolating percussion pounded upon by Mr. Baker & Co.
Anyway it worked out perfectly, as I had, just the day before, begun working on the (already stellar) sonics for the anniversary edition, to make the thing as beatastically blammin' as it could possibly be. I ended up doing what I almost always try to do, which is at little as possible in terms of unnecessary modification. It had very slight clipping issues that I used Sound Forge 9 to take care of, and a minimal bit of EQ and Dynamics enhancement was applied to set things fully into audiomotion. The big, glaring "deficiency" was the fact that the second set's volume (the last three pieces) was slightly less than the first set's, and in the last two tunes the stereo balance was skewed pretty emphatically in one direction. I fixed this (as well as a few dropouts), and endeavored to make both sets sound as precisely of a piece as possible in doing so. A new set of fingerprints, plus titling/tagging of the files, and here she is just in time for the birthday festivities.
If you know this fairly well-circulated bootleg at all -- and thanks to the first ballot DIME Hall Of Famer Ricola, it exists here in complete, unedited form sourced gorgeously from a Metal Oxide cassette of the master tape -- you know it is a life-altering experience of third-eye-opening intensity, perhaps rivalled only by the "No Material" concert that was used for that (blazing) record. That scorcher comes from the Mühle Hunziken in Rubigen, only a week later that March.
This, however, has the percussion orchestra that Ginger Baker was touring with for the first part of '87. If I had to describe it, I'd say they sound like a herd of flying elephants on an alternative-reality Ghanaian savannah, escorted by a coterie of unspecified, otherworldly buzzing airborne creatures out of a Roger Dean "Osibisa" album cover... and that's before they start singing. And of course this show has Sonny -- unbridled in the absence of sax molester par excellence Peter Brotzmann, with whom he'd usually have to compete for space during 1980s Material maestroms. Sonny, in turn, wastes no time at all in assaulting his guitar with yet more relentlessly messy finesse than even fans of his particular brand of thermonucleic shock-and-awe will expect.
A good deal of it sounds totally off-the-cuff and improvised... maybe the untitled ones are based on actual premeditated songs, but I have no idea. The titles we have here are as introduced by Baker, between songs, but call it anything as he lays down a rock-solid, yet somehow fluidly flexible core of molten lava for the percussionists to bubble synchronistically upon like the trancemasters they are. They all also sing, sometimes several at a time, as if it could get any deeper. As per my research, we can't be sure if all of the five guys who comprised Baker's African Force conga colossus crew are on this still-somewhat-mysterious tape -- or what the names of the untitled compositions might be, for that matter -- but it sure sounds like the full Force, so I listed the five. Any clearing up of the personnel or titles is encouraged and very much appreciated.
All minutiae aside... meanwhile, back at the astonishing music: On top of it all (OK, over the top of it all) there's a whole lotta Sonny being... 101% Sonny, let's just say. In some ways this is as uniquely informative and blatantly naked an insight into his playing as any that may exist, at least that I've heard. At the least, a tasty missing piece of his forever legacy as a guitar player trying to do something that hadn't ever been done before, or really even attempted, prior to his arrival in the mid-Sixties.
Perhaps most essentially of all, the whole band sound like they are having a total blast, with none other than the notoriously irascible star of "Beware of Mr. Baker" audibly reveling in the marathon grooves the ensemble is emitting for the assembled Swiss. And playing his ass off -- in the finale of this sublime show, for a half hour of human clockhood, without any rest -- too. Drummers have passed out from less, you know. And been fired for doing so. Some have even been spontaneously replaced for the evening by someone who just bought a ticket and found their way into the Cow Palace.
**EDIT** as the notes careen offtrack because the distraction of whether or not Ginger Baker will have me subjected to batterie just for writing this -- or remastering and resharing this (admittedly worth dying for) concert -- is driving me a little bit batty. Maybe before he turns me to cheap cheese he can clarify the names of the songs, or at least the name of the Swiss club at which he and his friends authored the fecemelting delicacy of volcanic fire we find frozen like a fever upon the oxide of this ancient tape. I wake up, in a cold sweat... and then, the phony president. People, it's bad. Please, please, please. We're going wrong, better get into my big black car.**drives into nearest lake**
But yes, enough of these meandering mumblings... it's no oxymoronically "alternative fact" to say this is a damn fine show, yes indeed it sho'nuff is, bligitty bligitty blah. Please enjoy it despite these ill-conceived and poorly articulated words, and thanks to Ricola, Firusan and everyone who ever seeded it. Incidentally this was always listed as a soundboard capture, but spectral examination shows it to likely be an FM broadcast, as it only reaches the standard 15 kHz for that. But I could be wrong... again, I am as clueless as can be expected of anyone born amid the decaying, neon ruins of a forlorn empire's self-on-a-shelf, Satyricon-on-steroids social construct.
Ginger Baker African Force + Sonny Sharrock
unknown venue
Geneva, Switzerland

01 untitled
02 Brain Damage
03 untitled
04 Breaking the Poles

01 Palava
02 Want Come, Wait

Total time: 1:41:44

Ginger Baker - drums, percussion & vocals
Sonny Sharrock - electric guitar
Francis Mensah, Ampofo Acquah, Ansou Mana Bangoura, J. C. Commodore & Thomas Akuru Dyani - percussion & vocals

1st gen cassette, likely an FM broadcast, remastered by EN
Needless to say,  the biggest thank you of all goes to the musicians, living and dead (R.I.P. Sonny), who made this incredible document happen in the 1st place. And at last, a happy, hypnotic birthday to the pulse-pounding 101 minutes of mayhem they maestro'ed. Thirty years born, and still explosive and entrancing music coming from the soul of the Earth and the far reaches of the firmament... where it ought always be sourced, if you ask me. --J.