Mushroom vs. Bundy K. Brown vs. Faust vs. Gary Floyd - "Compared to What"
(innerSpace Records 2001, 7714, CD version)
Daevid Allen's University of Errors - "e2 x 10 = tenure" (innerSpace Records 2001, 7715)
From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001)
Here we find two new releases by related entities based in San Francisco... Mushroom core members Pat O'Hearn (aka Pat Thomas, percussion), Erik Pearson (sax, flute, guitar), and Josh Pollock (upside-down and backwards guitar) pull double duty and comprise much of the faculty and staff of the fledgling University. (And in fact, bassist Michael Clare and the multi-talented Jay Radford appear on both albums as well, so a similar cast of characters no doubt!) In 2000, we actually saw both of these works released in a more limited sense, the Mushroom work as an LP on Weed Records (edited down to ~ 40 min.) and the sophomoric Errorizing as a tour-edition CD-R.
Since their inception five years ago or so, Mushroom have managed to retain a freshness and fluidity in form and direction like no other 'band' I've ever witnessed. 'Compared to What' shows off just the latest jazzier Mushroom incarnation, likely already passed and replaced with yet one more. The album leads in with the title track, already a major break in form since it's a cover tune with vocals. I didn't actually know the Gene McDaniels tune (originally performed by Les McCann & Eddie Harris)... truth be told, I don't really know anything about these guys - I've never been much of a ("pure") jazz or blues aficionado. The hard-hitting soulful jazz of 'Compared to What' is made even more punchy given the powerful singing of Gary Floyd (Sister Double Happiness). He really belts 'em out, I tell you. The addition of horns (Jon Birdsong and Carroll Ashby on cornet and trombone, respectively) is another recent development in Mushroom, and to be honest, I've always hated horns in rock music (weird since I'm a trumpet player myself). But then much of this material isn't you standard 'rock music,' so it rather fits much of the time. And the horns later on, Marc Capelle's trumpet on the wonderfully Faust-ian "Foxy Music" for example, are used very effectively. (Well, how could it *not* be Faust-ian with Hans Joachim Irmler at the board; Alison Faith Levy providing the vocals.)
"Let's Have Sex" is the one familiar sort of instrumental Mushroom track... the 'snaking' guitars of Tim Plowman and Erik Pearson playing hide and seek with various analogue noises and the like, all projected against the hypnotic backdrop of a looping rhythm. What's different about the CD version from the original LP version is the addition of two versions of "I Got Blisters on My Fingers," plus an extra 10 minutes of ambient noodling to the end of the freaky "Americans Own the Moon...," followed up then with a live jam entitled "Connecting the Molecules with the Light." Oh yeah, and also the bizarre phone conversation between keyboardist Michael Holt and percussionist Dave Mihaly, at the expense of a similar voiceover bit (the only thing left off from the LP). Other details of the staggering number of contributors to this work will have to be passed over in pursuit of brevity, but suffice it to say that a number of talented people collaborated with the core members. In my final analysis, I'd have to say that most of the best stuff was already found on the LP, and this CD version is mostly just longer. (And (for me), a lot easier to play and carry around - an important aspect from my perspective.) Which is perfectly fine really. And both versions of "Blisters" are kinda cool too... one uptempo instrumental, the other an experimental remix with added vocals.
The University of Errors' 'e2 x 10 = tenure' is another tuneful yet crazy and eclectic affair, and is presented here exactly as it was on the original CD-R, except a few of the songtitles have been changed. And of course the full packaging includes a couple of hand-drawn Daevid creations as only the Headmaster knows how. 'tenure' feeds off some of the same ideas that appeared on the 'Money Doesn't Make It' debut, but then this one also displays quite a bit more of the compositional stamp of Mr. Dingo Virgin methinks. "If You Are Changing" is a prime example... very recognizable as the sort of cosmic ditty that he did so many times with Gong, and again during his time in Mallorca in the late 70s. And this one is just as appetizing. And later, "One Mother of Pearl" again has that same tick-tock grandfather clock approach to the acoustic guitar from those old days (cf "Deya Goddess"). Works every time. But "Ocean in the Distance" is the most remarkable piece, a lazy meandering jaunt topped off with glorious gliss and spirited vocals from Daevid... one for the ages. "Ocean Motha" follows in the nautical vein, this one an incantation of sorts to the one that "lifts me up and carries me." More incantations from Daevid (lyrics by Yeats) are found in "innesfree," as slowly the band builds up the backing rhythm into a full-fledged jam that soars gracefully just as it throws in a touch of dissonant color and droning haze to great effect. "Pinky's Party Song" and "Good Evening Ned Kelly" (original title - "Lick Yr Love Backwards" after the tune's final incantation) are both louder and more raucous affairs. Not your standard rock tunes mind you, but with a punkish element and a bit more of that dissonant taste from the dueling guitars of Allen and Pollock. And then you have the frank and biting commentary in the lyrics that is a common bond between the UofE and so many other Gong entities.
'e2 x 10 = tenure' is another very strong album, and demonstrate that both Daevid Allen and the consortium of Bay Area musicnauts have more than enough ideas to keep many projects afloat, given that Gong's 'Zero to Infinity' was no shabby effort and Mushroom is obviously continuing to evolve through the gamut of musical styles with 'Compared to What' just the latest stop. I hate to weigh one against the other for preference because they're such different beasts, but of course since I'm a true space-rocker at heart, I will likely gravitate more often toward the space-gliss ambience of UofE. That said, I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed the "Jazz Mushroom." (I still don't have any Miles Davis or Sun Ra albums, crime that that must be.) Both entities are planning tours this fall, a difficult feat to manage given the major cross-pollination involved. But expect to see the Allen/Pollock/Clare/Jason Mills UofErrors tour the USA, just as the Pat O'Hearn/Erik Pearson-led Mushroom is jaunting around Germany and other parts. Try to catch one or the other, wherever your own travels might take you.
innerSpace is at P.O. Box 411241, San Francisco, CA 94141-1241 and is online at http://www.innerSpaceRecords.com. Mushroom can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the UofErrors have their own new site at http://www.universityoferrors.com.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson