STEUART LIEBIG/THE MENTONES:
Angel City Dust
Dirty delta blues that always sounds a bit off. Yep, avant-blues that isn’t scared of stepping outside the scale. With the fabulous bassist Steuart Liebig, and harmonica player Bill Barrett whose has been improving his role in the group with each release. This is their third CD. I personally prefer Nowhere Calling, but I have nothing negative to say about this one. It might be an even easier listen than the first two.
Francois Couture (monsieur delire)
Angel City Dust marks the third outing for bassist Steuart Liebig's largely aggressive and rowdy quartet, where progressive and avant-garde jazz uncannily coexist with high-impact blues-rock. Nevertheless, the musicians can lay claim to a deviating, multi-genre outlook that is morphed into a singular sound, partly due to chromatic harmonica ace Bill Barrett's frontline work with alto saxophonist Tony Atherton. Then Liebig adds another compelling element via his limber bottom-end and fluent unison lines with the soloists.
Drummer Joseph Berardi's often pummeling and turbo-mode backbeats offer a mammoth undercurrent. Driven by spirited sax and harmonica breakouts, the musicians lay it all out with foot-stomping pulses and brain-rattling avant, boogie rockers amid the knotty time signatures. They toss in a few oddball digressions and wail away throughout the entire session.
Liebig takes a fluid, yet monstrous bass solo atop Berardi's relentless thrust on "Locustland," and the soloists turn up the heat with frenetic lines during the intense frameworks heard on the aptly titled, "Fire and Ice." In other regions of sound and scope, the artists execute off-kilter dirges, along with hard-edged bump and grind motifs. Moreover, Barrett and Atherton generate an interesting series of harmonic phrasings, given the odd instrumentation pairing. Hence, the band imparts a cleverly articulated balance, consisting of cerebral implications, punishing jazz-based improvisations and a rollicking and rolling undercurrent.
Glenn Astarita (all about jazz.com)
STEUART LIEBIG / THE MENTONES Angel City Dust (pfMENTUM CD057): Liebig, mit Kammerstig, Stigtette und Minim Schöpfer seltsam neutönerischer Kammermusik, ist hier wieder der Puls- und der Ideengeber von groovigem R&B. Die Schnittmuster, die er an seiner Kontrabassgitarre zusammen mit Joseph Berardi an den Drums, Tony Atherton am Altosax und Bill Barrett an der chromatischen Mundharmonika entwirft, ignorieren, wie schon bei Locustland (2004) & Nowhere Calling (2006), wieder simple Bluesschemata, halten aber an den Essenzen fest, Rhythm und Bluenotes. Gesang ist überflüssig. Der Drive, meist im energiegeladenen Unisonozickzack, ist dabei meist so enorm, dass mit dem Staub auch manche Engelsfeder, schrillbunt wie Schmetterlingsflügel, davon wirbelt. LA, Stadt der Träume, gefallener Engel und anderer Falter, ist der Schauplatz für diesen Blues. Das Cover zeigt die ‚Vertical City‘ unausgeschlafen im Morgengrauen. ‚Lonelyheart‘, neben ‚Wool‘, ‚Slow Burn Fever‘ und ‚Out, Down and Over‘ eines der Stücke, die langsam, aber unverdrossen und unbeugsam die Verliererstraße entlang schlurfen, und ‚Locustland‘ erinnern an Nathanael West, der in Miss Lonelyhearts und The Day of the Locust die Kehrseiten der Traumfabrik gezeigt hat. Lieber als nur Trübsal zu blasen, nehmen The Mentones das Schicksal jedoch in den Schwitzkasten. Die Harmonika schillert bis zum überblasenen Diskant. Dynamisiert, zur Weißglut erhitzt und gleich wieder schockgefroren, ist dieser Blues zum Überblues geläutert.
Rigo Dittman (bad alchemy)
[Liebig, with KammerStig, Stigtette and Minim creator of oddly nine-tone chamber music, is here one the giver/provider of the pulse and ideas of groovy R&B. The patterns he designs on his bass guitar together with Joseph Berardi on drums, Tony Atherton on alto saxophone and Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica again ignore, as with Locustland (2004) and Nowhere Calling (2006), simple blues patterns but hold the essential Rhythm and Blues notes. Song is unnecessary. The drive mostly in high-energy unison zick-zack is so enormous that along with the dust come some angel feathers; screamingly colored butterfly wings, blown away. L.A., City of Dreams, fallen angels and other flutter-creatures, is the location for this blues. The cover shows the “Vertical City,” un-invigorated at dawn. “Lonelyheart,” next to “Wool,” “Slow Burn Fever” and “Out, Down and Over,” is one of the pieces which slowly, but unflagging and unbending, drag themselves along the loser road. And “Locustland” reminds us of Nathanael West, who in Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust, pointed out the flipside of the dream factory. But, rather than succumb to melancholy, The Mentones put fate in a headlock. The harmonica glitters all the way to the overblown discant. Mobilized, heated to white-hot degree and shock-frozen right away again, this blues has been purified to a state of uberblues.]
This one of those albums that brings out the unrealized drummer in me, where I’m just beating a hole in the clipboard with pen and palm instead of taking notes. Vigah, that’s what it’s got.
The Mentones are bassist Steuart Liebig’s blues band, ha. That is, he and drummer Joseph Berardi apply approximations of roots grooves -- railroad boogie, jook jerk, Otis Redding soul rave, Chicago roll & tumble -- to Liebig’s postmodern Zappa-Beefheart riffs. And then harmonicat Bill Barrett and alto saxist Tony Atherton douse the thing with kerosene and set it on fire.
Whether executing unisons, harmony lines or solos, Barrett and Atherton keep the energy up. In case you don’t know Barrett, he’s one of the world’s most accomplished and powerful harp exploders. By cocking the chromatic harmonica’s slide and gassing its reeds in exactly the right way, he can generate terrifying LOUD harmony blasts, twitters and superwheezes that assault your earholes as no other instrument can. Atherton doesn’t lag behind, spitting out a level of raunch rarely heard from an alto. Liebig’s technique on
6-string electric bass is unsurpassed -- dig for example the sweet little chordal riff he plucks/strums on the tugging “Slow Burn Fever,” sounding as if he’s overdubbing himself, but I know he ain’t. Berardi’s drumming is a friendly combination of whiskey-bar feel and jazz precision, the latter quite valuable considering the frequent split-second accents the music demands.
Liebig butts some disparate animals together: Foghat meets Schoenberg on “Headlock”; a polite waltz meets a barbiturate overdose on “Out, Down and Over.” And it coheres. Probably one other aspect was present before, but this third Mentones album is the first in which I noticed it, namely a particular visual quality, where I often pictured a scene while listening: an awkward blind-date conversation during “Lonelyheart” (I swear I didn’t look at the title before making this observation), for instance, or a drunk sobbing and stumbling down the street during “Wool.”
Strong as the record rolls -- play it loud -- it does not compare to the live Mentones experience. Too bad this churchlike venue serves no booze (or anything else); I recommend that you smoke some dust outside.
Greg Burk (metaljazz.com)
Trio californien, emmené par Steuart Liebig, The Mentones réunit saxophone alto, batterie, contrebasse et harmonica chromatique au service d'un cocktail décapant d'improjazz et de blues électrique, le tout matiné d' esprit rural américain ! Un pur délice, relevé de phrases boogie et et d'expressions progressives, qui régalera tout particulièrement les habitués du label Cuneiform.
[Californian trio, taken along by Steuart Liebig, The Mentones joins together alto saxophone, drums, electric bass and chromatic harmonica with the service of a cocktail pickling of improjazz and electric blues, the crossbred whole of American rural spirit! A pure delight, statement of sentences boogie and of progressive expressions, which will appeal to those accustomed to the Cuneiform label particularly.]
Olivier LEHOUX (Solénopole.org)
Electric bassist Liebig has traveled a long and winding road to get where he is, including stints with Les McCann and Julius Hemphill and a bit of time studying classical composition and playing and writing symphonies and whatnot. None of that information prepares you for the onslaught that is the Mentones, a raging quartet that filters stomping blues and Americana through a tweaked, slightly Zornish avant garde prism. Let's elaborate.
The band is Liebig on electric bass, Tony Atherton on alto sax, Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica and Joseph Berardi on drums, and from the opening salvo of “Fingeroo” I found myself searching the CD package and press notes to see who else was playing. There's no way four guys could be making this much noise! But they do, snaking through brutal unison lines, with Barrett overdriving his microphone ala classic Junior Wells. Toots Thielemann this ain't, my friends. Berardi's drumming is muscular and rock-inflected, and he and Liebig get deep into the groove, while fortunately avoiding the easy traps of funk. Check out the frenetic workout on “Locustland” or the greasy shuffle of “All Gone,” and you'll get a sense of it. Even when they do approximate funk, like on “Fire and Ice,” the groove turns on its head as Barrett goes to town.
Tom Chandlerhttp (//www.jazzreview.com/cd/review-20836.html)
I love that Steuart Liebig has a bar band. The Mentones not only stomp through some rocking beats, they also pair up the saxophone with a chromatic harmonica, one that gets played like an electric instrument. It’s a buzzing, flailing, bluesy good time. But under the surface, the band is playing the same kind of complex chamber-jazz music that Liebig uses on his more “serious” albums.
Pomegranate, one of those “serious” albums, was my introduction to Liebig. He’s part of the southern California crowd that includes Vinny Golia, G.E. Stinson, Nels Cline — and Jeff Kaiser, the guy who’s kept the scene documented for the past decade on the pfMentum label. Pomegranate consists of four long chamber pieces,
each featuring a different guest soloist. I love the mix of cerebral jazz and thoughtful composing here — especially on the Nels Cline track, which ditches all chamber-jazz pretentions and goes for a total noise freak-out. Yeah!
But back to that bar band, The Mentones. This is fun stuff that evokes images of dive bars just outside town, where the motorcycles kick up the desert dust. But with sheet music. Bill Barrett’s harmonica adds a honky-tonk touch to otherwise chamber jazz-y compositions, and then he blazes through his solos like he’s ready to throw beer bottles back at someone. A track like “Empty” or “Locustland” manages to rock out amid complex twists and turns in the writing. “Headlock” is a great head-banger. “Wool” and “Slow Burn Fever” go for the slower, swampy tempo of a dusty 110-degree day, although the latter ends up in a brutal battle of harmonica versus Tony Atherton’s sax. This is the third Mentones album, after Locustland and Nowhere Calling, and I’d recommend any of the three.
Who would have thought to rock out with alto saxophone and chromatic harmonica leading the way? Why, Steuart Liebig and The Mentones, that’s who. ‘Contrabassguitarist’ Liebig wrote all the tunes for Angel City Dust, and while they take off in various directions, they all share kickass beats thanks to the leader and excitable drummer Joseph Berardi. Bill Barrett wails like nobody else on the chromatic harp, with Little Walter attitude and technique ties to a modernist sensibility. A gruff Tony Atherton on alto dukes it out with him. The Mentones make music that appeals to the head as well as the feet. It’s funk with brains, and a gas all the way through.
Stuart Kremsky (The Research Quarterly of The International Association of Jazz Record Collectors, Vol. 43 No. 1 – March 2010)
Bassist/composer Liebig is a well-known figure on the relatively overlooked Southern California New Music scene. A specialist on the electric bass guitar, he’s been part of many a memorable session. The combo featured on (Angel City Dust), the Mentones, brings together a lot of Liebig’s interests, realizing the fusion of post-Bop, Free music, and various groove-based idioms with a fascinating instrumentation (Barrett is obviously the idiosyncratic decision in that regard, and he’s a superb player—often working with Liebig to create really interesting “electronic” effects). Atherton also really shines on tracks like “wool,” with manic double-timing on top of the mid-tempo slink, or the infectious shuffle of “all gone” (Berardi plays with good humor, not one to spare the monkey wrench or the rhythmic hiccup). But I still love the noisy mischief that Barrett contributes, just mashing it up on the Prime Time meets P-Funk jam “fire & ice” (though he can play it soft and spare too, as he does on “lonelyheart”). Indeed, it’s tempting simply to focus on the motion of the pulse throughout these tunes, from the po-mo cowboy lilt of “empty,” to the protean funk of “headlock,” the slow drunken stumble of “out, down and over,” or the herky-jerk clatter on “kingfish” (which has some fab Andrea Parkins-ish squealing from Barrett). But if you concentrate on Liebig’s playing—say, on “locustland”—it’s fascinating how gifted and yet understated he is, with all sorts of details in phrasing, dynamics, and harmony present in a rock solid foundation, as he also navigates the complex heads to these tunes as deftly as any horn (on occasion he permits him self a tasty solo too). His bandmates are possessed of similar gifts, and it’s a wonderful record all around.
Jason Bivens (Cadence, April-May-June 2010)
If you want to read my notes on this album, click here.