Alison Faith Levy and Mushroom - "Yesterday I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers"
(4 Zero Records 2007, FZ003)
Mushroom and Eddie Gale - "Joint Happening"
(Hyena Records 2007, HYN 9359)
From Aural Innovations #37 (September 2007)
Everyone's favorite space jazz band (well, they're my favorite, anyway!) has been quite busy in 2007, releasing two very different albums in a short space of time, both of them intriguing collaborations.
The first, Yesterday I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers, is credited to Alison Faith Levy and Mushroom. It would suggest an album of Alison Faith Levy tunes with Mushroom acting as her back-up band, but this, surprisingly, is not really the case. Here, Alison becomes a member of the band, her voice acting as another instrument in the ensemble, perfectly integrating into the Mushroom sound. The music is generally in a more rock-oriented vein this time out, especially when they're joined by Acid Mothers Gong/Daevid Allen Band guitarist Josh Pollock, who provides some intense, spaced out leads, most notably on the song bearing his name as its title. Elsewhere the band returns to their roots with songs like the funky Gas, Grass or Ass: Nobody Rides For Free and with the dazzling (and amusingly titled) 22-minute epic Kraut Mask Replica. Through a series of animalistic shouts and growls, the slow but steady jam of this song evolves, catching fire halfway through for an epic, tribal freak out finale. Other tracks, such as the opening cut, Electric Muse, lean more towards a kind of acid folk and off-kilter singer/songwriter territory, suggesting the influence that Ms. Levy brings to the band. For her part, Alison's vocals range from lyrical phrasing to jazzy improvisation. She's not a "pretty voiced" singer in the typical sense of singer songwriters. Her voice is always interesting though, and like the band Mushroom does with their instrumental sound, she is always pushing her voice to explore different possibilities. It evolves as the music evolves, as she and the band find new synergies with each track. It was also nice to hear Mushroom alumnus Michael Holt back onboard for a few tracks, doing his "magic" like he did in the Analog Hi-Fi Surprise days. The album ends on a lazy, joyous groove. Built around the repeated celebratory chant from the early David Bowie tune Memory of a Free Festival, The Sun Machine Is Coming Down and We're Gonna Have a Party is the perfect way to close out the album.
One their second release of 2007, Mushroom welcomes legendary jazzy trumpeter Eddie Gale into the fold. Eddie Gale played in both the bands of McCoy Tyner and Sun Ra, as well as releasing several obscure, but well regarded albums of his own, including 1969's Black Rhythm Happening. On Joint Happening, Mushroom returns to the jazz side of things, with a heavy dose of psychedelia thrown in for good measure.
Improvisation is the name of the game on this album, and the band are in fine form, from the laidback, almost ambient vibe with prog rock overtones of Peace, with Mellotron flutes and cello snaking around and through the other instruments, to the trippy space jazz of Border Crossing. Eddie Gale melds with the band as if they'd been playing together for years. He's not necessarily in a starring role though. Each member gets their chance to shine, but it's not so much a case of one musician doing a solo then another following, like in traditional jazz. They all play off each other, piano, organ, vibes, trumpet, and guitar, twisting around each other as they explore the complex grooves laid down by bandleader and drummer Pat Thomas, percussionist Dave Mihaly and bassist Ned Doherty. It's Bitches Brew era Miles Davis meets Karma and Jewels of Thought era Pharoah Saunders, and the vibe is very late 60's, but always with a bit of Mushroom's modern twist to it too. The highlight of the album is the explosive, nearly 20-minute tripped out tribal jam of I Was Torn Down at the Dance Place-Shaved Head at the Organ, which goes from a slowly building groove with some lovely flute from Erik Pearson, building into an intense jam full of everything from dazzling piano and shaking sleigh bells to Eddie Gale's superb, passionate trumpet playing. The interplay between Pat Thomas's intricate drum rhythms and Dave Mihaly's sizzling percussion is outstanding, but it finally gives way to a spacey extro laden with Yamaha Electone electric organ. The album ends with two Eddie Gale compositions, Our Love, which features some stellar fretwork from guitarist Tim Plowman, and the exquisite Spirit, a mid-tempo improvisation showcasing Gale's incredible trumpet skills.
Joint Happening is one of the finest albums of Mushroom's career. Coupled with the excellent Yesterday I Saw You Kissing Tiny Flowers, it makes 2007 a banner year for the band, a decade into their existence. Let's hope we have another 10 years of Mushroom music yet to come!
For more info, visit: http://www.myspace.com/mushroomoakland and http://www.paisleypop.com/mushroom.
Also, visit http://www.4zerorecords.co.uk and http://www.hyenarecords.com.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald