Mushroom - "Oh But They're Weird and They're Wonderful"
(Return to Sender, 2001. RTS-35)
From Aural Innovations #19 (April 2002)
We mine history, not just because it's interesting in and of itself; we do it to gain insight into our own lives. It gives our own times a context by which we can begin to understand them. It brings the semblance of structure to a chaotic universe. One of the track titles on Mushroom's latest CD is Unless the people of the present day correctly understand the musical convulsion of the 1970's, they will stumble into fatal errors of judgement about their own times and their own lives. It occurred to me, that if Mushroom has any sort of credo, this must certainly be it.
Oh, But They're Weird and They're Wonderful continues the San Francisco space jazz group's exploration of "the musical convulsion of the 1970's", but always with a nod to how it applies to current music trends. Even the album's production strives towards this goal. It's a live album, certainly a mainstay of 70's music, and it's a remix album, a staple of our modern times. The tracks slide back and forth between purely live originals and more experimental bits remixed by producer Dipstick using only material recorded live by Mushroom.
When Miles Davis released Bitches Brew back in 1969, it revolutionized music in such a way that its impact can still be felt today. The late 60's were mind-expanding times, and young rock audiences were searching for things that stepped beyond the bounds of what they already knew. Bitches Brew did exactly that, and was the first jazz album to cross over and be embraced by rock audiences. Davis was certainly a visionary of the era, foreseeing and perhaps prompting the crossover of genres that was to take place in the 70's. And while it is unlikely that he foresaw 90's electronica back then, Bitches Brew is still sited as an influence amongst many electronica and post-rock musicians.
Miles Davis and other fusion artists like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever continued to bridge the gap between rock and jazz audiences throughout the 70's. In a similar way, Mushroom bridges the gap between modern jazz fans and those who are into electronica. In fact, even though more traditional rock instruments drive their music, you can often find their CD's in the electronica section of your local record store.
The Dipstick remixes, in particular, evoke a sense of electronica, with throbbing repetitive rhythms and sampled effects. Some of them don't come off as well as others, but most are very short and are admirable attempts at creating something unique. The best of them is probably the longest, the aforementioned Unless the people..., a 6-minute piece of bubbling percussion and chilly ambience. I might add, that the re-mixes also have some of the most amusing titles that Mushroom have ever come up with, and include I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by acid jazz, and If this was released on Thrill Jockey or Kranky would you like it more? Hilarious!
The live tracks are all superb and are much warmer than the remixes (which incidentally, does give the overall album a nice balance between warmth and chill). A Dusty Groove is full of raw energy, and as the title suggests, is a great groove with spacey electronic effects swirling in and around the more traditional jazz elements. Sonia & Sonya is reminiscent of some of The Grateful Dead's spacier jams, with a little early Floydian organ thrown in as well. The Floyd influence crops up again in the magnificent 16-minute epic The Scream of the Butterfly, which has the feel of a jazzier Careful With That Axe Eugene, with lazy swing-like textures and guitar and keyboard jams, swirling around deep, deep organ drones and rhythmic grooves aplenty. Party With Marty, on the other hand, is a laidback, vibe enhanced number, with loose percussion and smoky sax. Mushroom even breaks out of their usual mould for a few minutes, with the boogie-woogie piano of Brian Felix and the Trinity! They also continue their habit of naming songs after intriguing people who have no doubt influenced them, with the infectious and rocking Wolfgang Dauner (for those who don't know, Dauner is a German jazz pianist whose adventurous works in the 60's and 70's combined jazz, rock, electronic music, and even opera!).
These tracks were all recorded at live shows in the San Francisco area between 1998 and 2001, and present Mushroom at their best in an environment that definitely suits them. Mushroom continues to produce some of the most amazing and innovative music out there today while retaining a hefty appreciation for those who came before them. If you haven't heard them, you must, and this is as good as any album to start with. And if you have heard them, I'm sure you're already ordering your copy of Oh But They're Weird and They're Wonderful even as you read this review.
This CD is a limited edition, so you best get your copy now. (I'm not sure if it's slated for wider release yet). They're available directly from the band by e-mailing them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mushroom's web site can be found at: http://www.innerspacerecords.com/mushroom/index.html.
Dipstick has a web site at: http://www.dipstickmusic.com.
Return to Sender is a division of Normal Records. Their web site is: http://www.normal-records.com.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald