Gimme Dat Carp Boy
FAST’N’BULBOUS: The Captain Beefheart Project : Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind (Cuneiform Records. Rune 205)
When I listen to or think of Beefheart these days I can’t escape those monochrome stills of him in Anton Corbijn’s short film. They seem so far removed from the flamboyant images of him and the ecstatically colourful music he and his various Magic Bands concocted. Yet they are perfect portraits of man who has long been in retreat from the business he sometimes accused of trying to turn him into a performing freak. He may still be writing and painting but, whatever those who remain in contact with him say, it is pretty certain that he won’t be sharing any of it from a stage any more.

Since vocally and verbally, he has made no public statements for a while it seems fitting that this ‘project’ should be a wordless one paying tribute to some of his musical compositions. There is no way that any instrument known to man could replicate the voice of Van Vliet and this ensemble mostly avoids trying, drawing on material from ‘Safe As Milk’ to several portions of ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and ‘Ice Cream For Crow’.

The line-up, in parts, reproduces aspects of the Magic Band sound, minus the tuned percussion, such as marimba, and there is only one guitarist, Gary Lucas, who served with the Captain and gets to handle all the choppy rhythms and coruscating slide guitar parts. It’s his sound that opens ‘Suction Prints’ and sets off the jaggedly energetic romp that is as tight as anything Beefheart arranged with the horns punching out riffs and leaving room for brief integrated solos. There are no extended blows here. Lucas also gets the chance to solo on ‘Evening Bell’ re-rung from the ‘Ice Cream For Crow’ album. It’s a knotty little piece, which pays homage to the blues, the ghost of ragtime and mixes in that unidentifiable ingredient that Beefheart sprinkled on his compositions.

As you might expect, the horns pack the most punch on many pieces, like ‘When I See Mommy I feel Like A Mummy’ where they inject an atmosphere suggestive of swamps, miasmas and places a Beefheartian mummy may reside. The band concludes with a zombie chorus calling for the said creature. ‘Pachuco Cadaver’ is preceded, as it once was, by those immortal words: ‘a squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast’n’bulbous, got me?’ then shimmies through a cadaverous bit of footwork. The horns tend to dominate on ‘When It Blows It Stacks’ as trumpeter Rob Henke rasps and growls and saxmen, Dave Sewelson and Phillip Johnson, takes their turns. Trombonist, Joe Fiedler, unearths a throaty rasp which, whilst not exactly like the Beefheart growl, is just as spine tingling. The version of ‘Dali’s Car’, once guitar territory, is a place for the horns to shape its angles. And they make a convincing case for their instruments.

One of my all time favourites, ‘Tropical Hot Dog Night’ closes the cd with a joyous swing that recalls the original, Johnston’s alto taking the Captain’s part before Fiedler’s fruity rasp adds a further flavour. You may miss Beefheart’s voice but Johnston’s arrangement ensures that the spirit of the piece is, as near as possible, in keeping with the version that graced ‘Shiny Beast’.

And that is something that can probably be said of all the cd, the spirit is immediately recognisable. There will be those who will long for other material ­ I’d have liked ‘Big-Eyed Beans From Venus’ ­ or may think that only the Captain’s voice could ever deliver these pieces. But I think it may open the music up to others who didn’t hear it or ‘get it’ first time around and it sounds fresh enough to liven old farts too. All power to them.

© 2005 Paul Donnelly