Gall of the President’s Men

Latest item from Matt Weston, that New York based all-original musician from Chicago, is another blinder – we seem to enjoy just about everything he does, including the last larger-than-life foray Tell Us About Your Stupor, although today’s dark and bleak item Four Lies In The Eavesdrop Business (7272MUSIC #014) is more closely aligned, I’d say, to A New Form Of Crime released in 2019.

Crime had a nifty urban-paranoia subtext bubbling under the surface, a phobia which is in full untrammelled flow on today’s item, even including the P-word in one of its titles. Plus, Four Lies is a double album – albeit not a very long one, with its 12-minute sides – and although Matt Weston’s effort might not put him in the league of other double-album classics such as Uncle Meat, Trout Mask, or Tago Mago, he makes a darned good try. Then there’s that title, an explicit reference to Four Lives In The Bebop Business, A.B. Spellman’s evergreen book about the lives of four key jazzmen and here rendered as a laboured pun that S.J. Perelman, that lost American humourist, would’ve surely approved. Weston’s title however signposts the key theme 1 of the record, that of surveillance – and that theme crops up not only in the music and track titles, but also in the inside gatefold cover, drawn by Jeremy Kennedy. We see a number of nondescript citizens posing as if torn from the pages of a corporate brochure, perhaps going about their business in an office – although in these drawings they are separated by heavy black borders and left drifting in space, alienated and alone. In the corner of the spread, there’s a fellow on an old-fashioned cord phone, which (given the title) hints at phone-tapping in the spirit of the Watergate “plumbers”.

As to the music, this time around I’m admiring as usual the imagination and scale of Weston’s compositions, but mostly what struck me on today’s spin was the assurance and unearthly calm with which he delivers himself of what is, to me, rather dark and unsettling music. Some of it might even come close to noise, but he doesn’t wallow in that noise, or use noise as a weapon. Jumping out of the gate with ‘We Are Armed’, we have an ominous and slightly alarming blend of percussion and electronics, instantly conjuring a pessimistic mood that hangs over the entire set. Portentous abstract groans writhe alongside detailed abstract noise, propelled by martial drumming. The title strikes the keynote of fear; armed invaders entering your home perhaps, or gangs of feral youths taking to the streets with guns. ‘Your Limp Is Waiting’ is evidence of how the new stripped-down Weston V2.0 can use a minimum of means to achieve maximal (scary) effect; not much more than a tense rattling piano riff set alongside scrambled bursts of noise-energy, turning into controlled explosions like depth charges. On side B, we have a standout cut ‘Celluloid Caller’ in title once again referencing that unwanted snooper listening in on our conversations, with an array of what seems to be treated voices babbling like demented aliens…this is set to an utterly eerie melody played on an organ from Hades…for a jazz conoisseur, Weston has come closer to turning in a warped form of Industrial music, a generic tic that runs throughout the four sides. Further subdued explosions and additional nauseating tones propel this track on its grim pathway, and heightened paranoia is the only legitimate response. ‘For Andrew Cyrille’ closes this side, a short episode of percussive creaks and metallic groans, with only the occasional bass drum hit (?) to remind us that Cyrille was a free jazz drummer.

Further grotesquerie awaits us on ‘You Tried To Fix the Paranoia’ on side C, to some extent continuing the grisly chapter that was opened with ‘Celluloid Caller’, but the scenario has now grown even more nightmarish…horrid voices making a manic chatter, absurd tones, much electronic mangling and metal scraping to jangle your nerves. Hard to convey the sheer malignancy of this one; it’s almost supernatural. And as if to confirm his horror-movie leanings, Weston follows this with the chilling ‘Solitary Vulture’, another tiny triumph of maximal-minimalism with its low-key high tones gradually coming together to whistle a sinister tune – plus very effective use of near-silence, especially at the start. Make no mistake, there are forces of evil out there just waiting to pick our bones clean with their predatory beaks! The album closes with the side-long ‘Fear Of Insomnia’ on Side D, perhaps built around a single performance where the drummer exhibits his craft in an uninterrupted flurry of frenetic activity and flawless time-keeping, but looming overhead is a harrowing mixed chord of discordant harmonies, much like a large black cloud. Echoey, deep, resonant – possibly recorded in an abandoned building (as is his wont), but if he is, it sounds like the building is on the verge of collapse. Once again the sense of icy calm and deliberation is palpable; remaining stoic in the face of urban chaos, Matt Weston drums and plays his piece all the way through as he faces the beast squarely in the face.

A wide range of methods have fed into this grand tapestry – improvisation, site-specific constructions, and mostly a number of different approaches to scoring. Weston claims he uses conventional [Western] notation, graphic scores (which he says are multi-dimensional, whatever that means), implied notation, and aural scores; I take all of these as an index of his bold imagination, his very ambitious craft, and his commitment to unleashing the wild adventures which free music can offer. Net result – an essential monster! From 17 May 2021.

  1. And perhaps a secondary theme, that of systematic deceit.