Fast N' Bulbous
Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind
Cuneiform, 2005

The brainchild of saxophonist Phillip Johnston and former Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas, Fast N' Bulbous is their instrumental Captain Beefheart Project. Lucas played with Don Van Vliet's seminal Magic Band from 1980-1984, when Beefheart decided that a life spent painting alone in the desert was more appealing than the music biz. Johnston has loved Beefheart ever since his youthful exposure to 1969's Trout Mask Replica, and with Lucas decided to form an instrumental unit to cover Beefheart's tunes.

The Captain's raspy, surreal vocals have been transposed into horn charts and the original arrangements have been extended to incorporate sections for improvisation. The whole effort draws obvious parallels to what's been happening in the Downtown East Village scene since the early Knitting Factory days. On first listen one may even be reminded of George Cartwright's long standing group Curlew, among other stalwarts.

The tunes, mostly brief, have a consistency and matter of fact-ness to their execution that is spot on in their delivery. There is no filler on this album, no fat on this pork chop. All the participants get a chance in the limelight and no one overstays their welcome. Naturally Lucas and Johnston get the lion's share of the spotlight, as it is their project, still one can't help but be bowled over by Lucas' endlessly inventive guitar stylings. Backed by a horn section that at times invokes an Appalachian marching band, Lucas's lysergic slide guitar excursions blend with the ensemble to create an unholy amalgam of American music. There is a surprisingly rootsy character to many of these arrangements, as "Veteran's Day Poppy" and "Kandy Korn" both embody a folksy sensibility one wouldn't immediately identify with Beefheart's music.

Hearing Beefheart's signature, counterpoint-laden, psychedelic Blues tunes arranged for an instrumental jazz band reveals the intricacies of Beefheart's writing. The polyrhythmic shuffles and crazed counterpoint provide the perfect structural platform for a group of seasoned improvising musicians to launch from. At once joyous and challenging, Pork Chop Blue Around The Rind is that rare tribute album that reaches beyond its source material to create something new and perhaps even greater than the sum of its parts.

Troy Collins
January 25, 2005