Michael Maksymenko
Business Cide


When talking about music, there are quite a few issues that can act as a potential source of a lot of difficulties, one of the most dangerous being the one hiding under the (on the surface) innocuous label "Y resembles X". Understanding the reason why is quite simple: in order to postulate a relationship of resemblance between X e Y one has to build the concepts first, and there's nothing that can reveal our (lack of) understanding of the music in question as clearly as our stating a similarity between two elements which often reveal themselves to be of a "secondary" nature.

Let's just think about all those times we've read a sentence like "X resembles Joni Mitchell", only to find that the main factors for this judgment were not melody, narrative, or alternate tunings, but long, blond hair, and an acoustic guitar. Or, "Y resembles Laura Nyro", where the important factors are a piano, and being a woman with long, dark hair (maybe this is the reason why it's so difficult to see how important an influence was Nyro's music on the early albums by Todd Rundgren?).

For a long time, nobody thought about the similarity between the music of any Musician X and the music of Captain Beefheart, for the very obvious reason that Beefheart's music sounded so "new & original" to be (destined to remain) one of a kind, unique. But with the passing of time, this issue ceased to be one to be discussed only "in theory".

On one hand, quite a few "avant-garde" guitarists have mentioned the importance that Beefheart's original guitarist, Zoot Horn Rollo, had for their artistic development (besides himself, Henry Kaiser has mentioned Eugene Chadbourne, Davey Williams, Jim O'Rourke, Fred Frith, David Torn, Elliott Sharp and Bruce Anderson); meanwhile, the publication of Lunar Notes (the book where Zoot Horn Rollo told in great detail the tale of the way the music was really assembled) and the release of Grow Fins (the box set that made available for the first time the tapes the were the foundation for Trout Mask Replica) made understanding the whole quite easier for us.

On the other hand, the proliferation of the label "Beefheartian", as generically meaning "raw blues", made the expression lose any "strong" defining properties.

It's obvious that being (really) influenced by Beefheart's music brings the very real danger of producing (and becoming) a caricature. This is the reason why, I believe, there are so few direct "homages": let's just mention When It Blows Its Stacks as performed by the US group Doctor Nerve on the album Every Screaming Ear (1997), and the nice "Made in Sweden" CD titled The Music Of Captain Beefheart (1996); plus two projects by former Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas: The Magic Band, with some of the original members, and the septet with winds called Fast 'n' Bulbous.

Not many people remember Crazy Backwards Alphabet, a group that featured Henry Kaiser, John "Drumbo" French (the drummer that in many ways had been Beefheart's alter ego in music), the excellent US bass player Andy West, and the prodigious Swedish drummer Michael Maxymenko: just an album (of the same name) released in the mid-80s (it was later re-released with bonus material), a few concerts, an unreleased second  album.

I have to admit that I had totally forgotten about Maksymenko. So, it's a double pleasure to being able to listen to this compilation (about eighty minutes long, and quite well-recorded) which assembles vaious material, all owing a serious debt to Captain Beefheart. There's some unreleased stuff, too, but so sporadic was the circulation of the original albums that I don't think I'm wrong when I say that there are not too many people around who already know this stuff. Nice booklet, with detailed notes (and some jokes, too), a chronology, some pictures, and a final hope: that - maybe - the story has not ended, yet.

The first part of Business Cide features some pieces taken from the two albums released by Kräldjursanstalten, the spectacular trio where the Agaton twins - Stefan e Thomas (the former a guitarist, the latter a bassist) - played alongside Maksymenko. Three pieces off the maxi-EP Som Ett Fyllo I Ett Minfält (As A Wino In A Minefield) from 1980, five from the album VoodooBoogie, released the following year. It's all "Beefheartian" music in the most rigorous sense, technically superb, with much energy, with the players almost sounding as prodigious telepaths. The vocal parts are definitely personal, never a "caricature". My favourite tracks here are VoodoBoogie, Ibland Om Vardagarna and Den Stora Coupe Finalen, but it's only a matter of taste. Fractured rhythms, unexpected melodic interludes, some "Swedish" (I think) arias here and there, a very nice trio.

Then, we have three extracts off Maksymenko's solo album, Nu Kan Det Sägas. Here the drummer appears to prefer a rhythmic approach that, when compared to the material recorded by the trio, could maybe be defined as being organized along a more orthodox kind of groove. There's also a nice female vocalist (Eva Sonesson), who on Från Högre Ort reminded me a bit of Grace Slick, while on Dom she reminded me a bit of the singer from Amon Düül II, Renate Knaup-Krötenschwanz. Here the timbral palette is larger: two guitars, keyboards, bass, and (on En Panserfjant) even a lively bassoon.

Ten Year Anniversary is a track that was destined to appear on the (unreleased) second album by Crazy Backwards Alphabet, but in my opinion it's its rarity that really constitutes its main point of interest.

We have a very nice, long live version (it's almost 23' long) of Beneath The Valley Of The Dropped D. A structured theme, followed by an improvised central part. I liked the bass solo by Andy West a whole lot, but the two guitars (by Henry Kaiser and Bob Adams) and the drums duet (by Maksymenko and "Drumbo") are definitely not bad, either. I have to admit I asked myself how many more times would I listen to such a long impro, but obviously this cannot be our only criteria of judgment...

In closing, a nice trio version of Albert Ayler's Ghosts, off the only album released by the group.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2008

CloudsandClocks.net | May 18, 2008