The Music Association of Detroit (MAD) is widely held to be one of the most prolific of the free jazz ensembles that emerged from the hothouse of 1960's radicalism. Indeed, their discography lists 49 albums to date on 50 different labels. (1969's Farewell, Nubian Princess (Maqanga, Baqanga)
was split between two labels—Pretension Records label head Jimmy Ostinato liked the A side but thought the B side, a 13-saxophone free exploration of "Frère Jacques," was too commercial). MAD's latest disc, Bossa Nova Bitchslap!
, is without a doubt another notable entry in their voluminous résumé.
At first blush, this may seem like MAD's bid for the mainstream; after all, bossa nova music is rather more listener-friendly than their typical style, which was exhibited on last year's What You Lookin' At? (Hi Colonic Records), a 3-CD set chronicling a continuous 147-minute all-percussion rendition of "Angel Eyes". One spin (and believe me, that's all most will be able to handle) is, however, enough to disabuse the listener of any such ideas.
MAD disembowel several of bossa nova's most classic tunes with ruthless abandon, and, in fact, no regard for the original melody, rhythm, or harmony. Jobim's "Girl From Ipanema" (here retitled "Skank From East Lansing") is typical: a squalling soprano saxophone bleats out a minor scale in 7/4, while the rest of the group pluck piano strings from the inside while performing "La Marseillaise" on kazoos. "Samba de Orfeu" is even worse. For once, the drummer taps out a passable bossa nova rhythm, but drastically varies the tempo every 3 bars. This gives the listener a decidedly seasick feeling, which would be significant if not for the already-nauseating series of dissonant chords (none found in the original composition) played by a trio of electric kalimba, euphonium, and autoharp.
But by far the most fetid, repulsive music on the disc is to be found in the two original "tunes." "Brazil Nut Boogie," despite its title, neither swings nor grooves; what it does, rather, is hurt one's ears. Consisting, as it does, of nothing but MAD members screaming the word for "legume" in a dozen of the world's languages (the lyrics are printed in the CD booklet), it's decidedly hard to fathom. "Manha de Wood" is more comprehensible, but this is not to say it is better. On this track, a wah-wah mandolin inexplicably plays the riff to Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" over and over, while special guests the Catgut String Quartet wail away in untempered tuning. Again, no actual connection to bossa nova is the least bit discernible.
MAD fans reading this review will probably assume that this reviewer must simply be another hopelessly square suburbanite SUV driver who votes Republican and would rather be listening to soft-pedal quiet-storm stuff like, say, Cecil Taylor. So be it. But in all good conscience, I must warn all AAJ readers: don't get MAD. Or if you do, pick up a healthy dose of aspirin along with it.
Personnel: James Offkee, electric kalimba, kazoo, trumpet; LeRoy de Bastardo, saxes, kazoo; Manfred Cornfed, drums, percussion, kazoo; Donny Taproot, bass, autoharp; Dougie Smith, euphonium, piano; Catgut String Quartet