Street Priest - More Nasty

It's been just over a year since drummer/composer Ronald Shannon Jackson died, and I'm still way bummed about his passing. What an amazing career: after jamming with Albert Ayler in the 60s, he was behind the kit on my favorite Ornette Coleman albums, "Dancing in Your Head" and "Body Meta." He's all over Cecil Taylor's killing late-70s LPs, and his work in the 80s leading the Decoding Society took Ornette's funk/jazz vibes into even deeper and darker places. And the avant-jazz supergroups, Power Tools and Last Exit? Jesus. I don't often hear him referenced among the most iconic of jazz-related artists, but he should definitely be part of that discussion.

With that in mind, this seems like the perfect time for Bay-Area trio Street Priest to get their first tape into the world. "More Nasty" is an impressive debut, making reference to the Decoding Society by band name and album title, and harnessing the raw energy of RSJ projects at their gnarliest. This rhythm section has a serious pedigree in aggressive music, with Matt Chandler of Burmese on bass, and long-time Ettrick co-conspirator Jacob Felix Heule on drums. As an aside, I was lucky enough to catch Ettrick on a tour that stopped in Lincoln years ago (thanks, Unitarian Church!), and they laid down a duo free-grind set that I still think of often, trading duties between sax and drums. Definitely get some Ettrick in your ears if you haven't already. Guitarist Kristian Aspelin completes the trio, a perfect fit whose diverse approaches to the guitar give Street Priest a lot of musical latitude.

"More Nasty" captures the intensity of the Decoding Society, but this isn't a "heads and solos" project: Street Priest are working mostly with a non-idiomatic free improv approach. They occasionally bring out splinters of free-funk grooves, and their extreme music backgrounds inform the most dense, heavy moments on the album, like most of the album-closer "Market," but I'm especially taken by how often this trio plays in careful, hushed passages. In its frequent quieter passages, this album can sound like a saturnine electroacoustic project. This power-trio-to-lowercase-improv feat is difficult to pull off successfully, but they totally nail it with style and thoughtful interplay to spare. I'm reminded of that Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter disc from a few years ago: with both recordings, the heaviest moments leave an immediate impact, but there are plentiful subtle gestures that continue to reveal themselves on repeated listening.

Like a lot of the best improv albums, there are times where it's hard to tell who is playing what: on opening piece "Turk," for example (and all four tunes are named for streets in SF's Tenderloin), the whole trio work themselves toward a crescendo of short, scraped sounds, but generally the bass seems to be working with higher pitches than guitar--or are those metal percussion sounds? Most of the sound manipulations in this music sound like they're done with little fuss, simply digging into instruments with a little help from distortion pedals, but there are times when I'm pretty sure someone has a loop pedal handy, and there must be a lot of harsh-sounding auxiliary percussion at the ready as well. And there are times when individual contributions are clear: Aspelin digs into deep guitar feedback workouts in "Taylor," his amp alternately singing and screaming, and the outro of that piece has some great busy kit playing from Heule. The best bass work here is probably found in "Sixth," and it's heavy on extended technique, with slowly bowed and scraped rumbles, detuned strings, and hammered-sounding articulations dominating the soundstage. Everyone plays their asses off here--and the group listens to their own interplay with just as much discipline.

The first release on Heule's new Humbler imprint, "More Nasty" is pro-dubbed on some especially fine chrome tape--this is probably the best-sounding tape I've heard in a while, loud and full-frequency. The album art has that "metal demo" vibe at a distance, but it's on a heavy, textured paper that feels as substantial as the music in your hands. A fine debut that definitely leaves me hungry for more--and considering that these recordings were made before passing of RSJ, this project feels much more like a celebration than an elegy. More "More Nasty," please.

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