Back in 1980s and early 1990s in New York, musicians were reinventing jazz and the “downtown scene,” as it was called, was focused on the The Knitting Factory club. Artists like saxophonists John Zorn, John Lurie and Thomas Chapin, guitarist Marc Ribot and cellist Tom Cora became famous. While they were schooled in the traditional, their rediscovery of the spark and energy that can be found in jazz was a revelation. Bands like Lounge Lizards, Jazz Passengers, Naked City, Doctor Nerve, Chunk and Slan, the first generation to be born under the full weight of rock and roll, brought a D.I.Y. sensibility to the music. This disc epitomize that same spirit—jazz that rocks.
Three young Italian jazz musicians Carlo Garof (percussion), Antonio Bertoni (bass) and Luca Serrapiglio (reeds) set out to integrate the worlds of jazz and rock. Their effort, Jazz With A Megaphone?, doesn’t fuse the two as much as weld them together. The group play avant rock with jazz instruments, sometimes creating a free/jazz/punk amalgam, and at other places, a cobbled Frankenstein jazz monster. Tongs favors the low end, the bass fiddle (both acoustic and electric), baritone saxophone and bass clarinet.
A swinging opener, “Bootswanna,” finds Serrapiglia’s baritone sax cruising a post-bop melody before chewing off huge chunks of energized outward notes over the speeding pulse of bass and drums. This pattern is repeated throughout to great effect. The band updates this dynamic swing with varied lo-fi electronic effects, samplers and a megaphone. Tongs is not just a crash-and-bash ensemble, it has a flair for positioning these effects and other subtle sounds within noisy contexts to keep things interesting. “Lifting Tools” is a great ambient electronics meditation that morphs into a free-jazz piece, then finally, into a rocker.
The trio’s capaciity for gentle, considerate music is also found here. The chanting “Bobo” has the feel of a late 1960s track by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders upgraded with effects. After a tenor saxophone invocation, bassist Antonio Bertoni stretches out the affair with some angular bowing, before plucking an a cappella solo. There’s also the introspective “Am Duong” and “The Sketch Of The Cat,” both drifting improvised pieces that meander a bit. Never does the music fall back on mindless rock themes. Drummer Carlo Garof plays with stunning energy—directing his partners towards exclamations and his listeners towards sonic insights. For Tongs, everything new is both old and new again.