The Groove Seeker: The Dead Kenny Gs’ Operation Long Leash

By Michael Nolledo
April 05, 2011

The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

The Dead Kenny Gs: Operation Long Leash (The Royal Potato Family, 3/15/11)

The Dead Kenny Gs: “Black Truman (Harry the Hottentot)”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/02-Black-Truman-Harry-the-Hottentot.mp3|titles=The Dead Kenny G’s: Black Truman (Harry the Hottentot)]

Smooth-jazz lovers beware.  As an antidote to the polished alto saxophones and rarely improvised easy-listening jams of adult contemporary music, eccentric jazz trio The Dead Kenny Gs has released its second album, Operation Long Leash.  Given its play-on-words moniker that simultaneously drives a sock down the mouth of smooth-jazz king Kenny G and recalls the early ’80s hardcore-punk band The Dead Kennedys, the powerhouse trio taps into a sound that fuses jazz and punk.  It’s a crazy mix that works surprisingly well, played intensely by a group that has the skill and knowledge to pull it off.

Composed of three of the members of legendary Seattle-based Critters Buggin — bassist Brad Houser, drummer and vibraphonist Mike Dillon, and saxophonist Skerik — the band uses its genre-mashing experience to anchor it all down.  The trio has played in countless projects together, including all three in The Black Frames, and Dillon and Skerik comprise half of Garage a Trois.  Needless to say, the three have run in the same circles for more than two decades, playing hybrid styles that are everything but conservative.

For Operation Long Leash, the trio is hostile and straightforward in fusing elements of free jazz, Afrobeat, punk, metal, and anything else that it feels like throwing in the mix.  Behind the hilarious name and the curly dark wigs, there are some serious chops at work.  Switching between instruments and utilizing a healthy selection of effect pedals, it’s sometimes hard to believe that there are only three musicians — and forget trying to decipher who’s playing what.

Sounding more like a noise-rock record, the 10-song set comes off like a swift punch to the face, making clear the band’s mission of subverting the restraints of the respected genres.  The deeper you get into the record, the more liberated the music becomes, and a sense that anything is possible emerges by the end.

Long-time collaborator and guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter lends his style on the raw funk tune “Black Truman (Harry the Hottentot).”  The trio has mastered the mixing and matching of different sounds; even on this track alone, there is so much happening with harmony, timbre, and the nuances of melody.  Skerik rocks his saxophone in funky staccato bursts, an attack that sounds as raw as Hunter’s shape-shifting guitar riffs.  A wide variety of percussion instruments keep the rhythm inherently Afrobeat influenced, and some spacey electronic elements propel the band into some George Clinton-tinged P-funk.

“Melvin Jones” has the band bouncing back and forth between thrash, Balkan folk, and Klezmer styles, and switching time signatures between each section.  The effect is jarring, almost resembling a music form from a strange, dystopian future.  Like the cross-section where Black Flag and Albert Ayler would meet, the track is ferocious in sonic exploration, while bringing Eastern European melody lines to the forefront.

Though the tracks are as much informed by Jesus Lizard as they are by Roshaan Roland Kirk, they are entirely distinct to the DKG sound.  Songs have everyone playing frantically, making all kinds of disparate negotiations at once — whether it’s Skerik’s Klezmer sax lines with Dillon’s speed-metal drumming on “Sweatbox,” the mad electronic atmospherics with the gritty piano keys on “Bucky Balls (Spherical Fullerene),” or Dillon’s funk-infused vocal growls on “Black Death.”

Operation Long Leash‘s producer, Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Earth), has worked with Houser, Dillon, and Skerik through Critters Buggin in the past, but he’s also worked with some of the heaviest metal bands in the world.  The result is a well-conceived sound that makes the punk-rock and free-jazz connection that people rarely make.  Not for the soft at heart, Operation Long Leash is aggressive, unrelenting, and designed to kill your speakers.

By Michael Nolledo April 05, 2011
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