1. The Fool on the Hill
2. Dear Prof. Leary
3. Ode to Billie Joe
4. Dur Dur Dur
5. Why Do You Keep Me Hanging On
6. Lonely Woman
Barney Wilen - Soprano sax, tenor sax
Mimi Lorenzini - Guitar
Joachim Kühn - Piano, organ
Günter Lenz - Bass
Aldo Romano, Wolfgang Paap - Drums
Barney Wilen was a French
saxophonist who grew up in the USA but spent
many years in Paris. He worked with Bud Powell,
Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey, and he played
on Miles Davis's soundtrack for the film Lift
to the Scaffold. From recordings I had
heard up to now, I imagined that he was basically
a lyrical tenorist, rather in the style of
Lucky Thompson. I hadn't realised until now
that, in the 1960s, he explored a much freer
style which incorporated elements of rock
music, with his "Amazing Free Rock Band".
This 1968 album (originally on MPS) shows
Barney's wilder side, uninhibitedly interpreting
four current pop tunes, two originals and
a piece by Ornette Coleman. It is rather a
culture shock to those of us who only knew
the gentler side of Barney Wilen.
The opening Beatles song,
The Fool on the Hill, starts fairly
unremarkably, with Barney playing tenor sax
over a jazz-rock beat. Mimi Lorenzini's electric
guitar is fairly prominent in the background
and becomes fiercer when she takes a solo
which might be the work of (say) Jimi Hendrix.
Barney Wilen returns on soprano sax, introducing
deliberate discords before the track fades
The title-track underlines
the group's allegiance to the ideas of Professor
Timothy Leary, the darling of the psychedelic
counter-culture and an enthusiastic advocate
of drug use, especially LSD. Leary's message
was "You must turn on, tune in and drop out"
and the band here seems determined to drop
out of conventional jazz and experiment with
the sort of sound that could be called "mind-blowing"
- noisy and unrepressed.
Ode to Billie Joe
is like the opening track in starting without
excess. Barney's tenor sax and Joachim Kuhn's
Hammond organ seem quite disciplined until
Joachim goes a bit wild and Barney joins in
the excitement, although his solo has the
blues at its heart. Wilen's devotion to the
blues explains the presence of two drummers:
one (Wolfgang Paap) chosen as a rhythm-and-blues
specialist; the other (Aldo Romano) more familiar
with free improvisation. This track gradually
develops (or degenerates) into musical anarchy.
Dur Dur Dur - like
the title=track - was composed by Wilen, Lorenzini
and Kuhn, and is based on an ostinato pattern
which is in danger of becoming tedious. Again,
the tune descends into virtual chaos at the
end. Why Do You Keep Me Hanging On
is the Supremes' 1966 hit tune (whose title
lacked the first two words added on here).
To be honest, you may not recognise the melody,
since it is submerged beneath a welter of
conflicting sounds. Ornette Coleman's Lonely
Woman is also not easy to pick out among
the jumble of sounds, which include bowed
double bass, tinkling piano, wailing soprano
sax and two separately-recorded drum tracks
faded in and out of the music.
The final Respect
is much easier to follow, with a funky boogaloo
beat and Barney Wilen blowing up a storm on
tenor sax. Mimi Lorenzini's guitar solo stays
clearly in touch with the original tune, although
the ending is another free-for-all.
I was glad to hear this album,
showing a different side to the Barney Wilen
I thought I knew, but I think I still prefer
him in more mainstream jazz mode.