Paper Bag - "Airwave Rituals"
(Homeless Music/Arts Network 2008, HMPB0001)
From Aural Innovations #40 (September 2008)
Paper Bag were a Los Angeles based improvisational quartet that released 4 albums on the SST label in the 1980s, plus numerous "radio sets". The radio sets were Paper Bag's way of getting around their inability to tour, by improvising music in the studio, just as if they were playing live in a radio studio, and sending the performances to stations that were interested in the band. Sub-titled Excerpts from the 1986 Paper Bag World Radio Tour, Airwave Rituals is a "best of" collection from the first 6 radio sets, originally intended for release to the general public, but fell by the wayside (for 20 years) when their first SST album was released.
I haven't listened to Paper Bag in a while, but after listening to Airwave Rituals I was reminded why I sub-titled my article about the band in AI #21 - I can't believe this shit is improvised!!. In fact, I would urge you to CLICK HERE to read that overview of the band's 4 SST albums to get a broader feel for what this unique band is about. The lineup, as always, is Mark Segal on drums, percussion, voice, and lots of sound making devices, Greg Segal on guitar and effects, George Radai on basses and effects, and Kenny Ryman on keyboards, voice, and his own share of noise making toys.
Paper Bag tunes are typically short but dynamic statements, and it's no surprise that there's lots of variety across the 16 tracks on the CD. "Hanablue, You're Dead" and "Choir of Fools" are personal favorites because they feature Greg Segal's caustic guitar. "Memories of Victory" consists of ambient bass, Fripp styled guitar and a singing keyboard melody. "Women of the River" is similar, with Frippoid guitarscapes, keyboards and varied percussion. Comparable guitarspaces can be heard on "A Dark Side", plus weird haunting voice samples, eventually building up to a wild rhythmic stew. One of my favorite tracks of the set. So much happening in just a few minutes you gotta pay close attention to wrap your brain around it.
Spoken word has always been a part of any Paper Bag set and Mark Segal's firebrand preacher meets rap style is showcased to full effect on "Overturn", "Hymn of the Borderline Activist" and "Bad Habits". We've also got the playful rock of "Mack the Wife", and the freaked out lysergic country hoedown of "Roll in Boulder". I really like the funky electric Miles Davis meets the Residents' Eskimo of "Roll in Boulder". Other highlights include the rocking blend of King Crimson and funky jazz on "Brain Dead". The band go even deeper into improvisational King Crimson territory on "Knee Deep in Blood". I also loved the oddball and deliciously busy blend of free jazz and rock on "Dharma Party".
Be sure and pop the CD in your computer so you can watch the band in action on the 1986 video performance of their song "Don't Forget To Vote", a real treat as it features Paper Bag at their most rocking and funky. Paper Bag is all about improvisation, but this isn't about mere jamming. These guys created some of the most tightly constructed and diverse improvisational music ever. Check 'em out.
For more information you can visit the Paper Bag web site at: http://www.paperbagtheory.com
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz