Hampton Grease Band


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Music To Eat (1971), 8/10
Links:

Atlanta's misfits Hampton Grease Band, formed by former Four Of Nine's guitarist Harold Kelling and vocalist Bruce Hampton, recorded the double-LP album Music To Eat (Columbia, 1971 - Legacy, 2002), on which they attempted a bold fusion of the idioms of Absolutely Free (Frank Zappa), Trout Mask Replica (Captain Beefheart) and Eat A Peach (Allman Brothers). Their manifesto was the side-long 19-minute Halifax that opened the double LP. Boasting amateurish vocals that blended the hysterical tone of Wild Man Fischer, the psychotic tone of Captain Beefheart and the emphatic/clownish tone of Frank Zappa, the band transitioned from a blues-rock section to a theatrical operetta-style section to an effervescent jazzy jam (via tinkling vibrahone and grotesque Zappa-style tempo and melody shifts) only to return to a slow-burning blues section that again rolled into a comic Zappa-esque section. After countless metamorphoses, they finally capped the suite with a catchy pop melody.
The second side of the first LP, after the satirical vaudeville skit of Maria, was dominated by another 19-minute juggernaut, Six, also a collage of styles, from Brecht-ian declamation to boiling soul-rock to abstract jamming to square dancing. The 12-minute Evans, the first track of the second LP, ran the gamut from frantic rhythm'n'blues to cacophony and silence, ending in a canonical psychedelic freak-out. Abstract noises populated the seven-minute Lawton, a mixture of Chicago's creative jazz, Jimi Hendrix's 1983 and Amon Duul's Phallus Dei. After aping Little Richard in the wild Hey Old Lady / Bert's Song, the album ended with another lengthy excursion into the avantgarde, the 20-minute four-movement suite Hendon, peppered with dissonant swing music, shouted recitation over loose jamming, and dissonant group improvisation that escalates to gargantuan proportions.
The three lengthy pieces ranked among the most visionary pieces of music of the 1960s. In a sense, this album marked the end of the 1960s and summarized its innovations.

They quickly disappeared from the recording studios. However, at the end of the decade Hampton was given another chance and managed to record two more albums: One Ruined Life (Pine Tree, 1978) and Skin Deep Yeah (Jonathan David Earle). During the 1980s Hampton played with New Ice Age and then with Late Bronze Age, groups that released Outside Looking Out (Landslide, 1980), Route Two and Isles Of Langerhan. Then the self-appointed colonel Hampton released Arkansas (Landslide, 1987) and formed the Arkansas Travelers.

The "colonel" returned in 1992, fronting the Aquarium Rescue Unit, a septet of southern freaks featuring Chuck Leavell on keyboards, two percussionists (Larry Jones, aka Count Mbutu, and Jeff Sipe, aka Apt Q258), ferocious bassist Oteil Burbridge, logorrhoic guitarist Jimmy Herring and devilish mandolin player Matt Mundy.

The self-titled live album harked back to the age of live jams. The sound was still permeated by the same oblique and cosmic blend of all the musical lingos of the South (blues, jazz, rock, country, gospel, funk), and still marked by a sardonic hippie spirit. The combo devastated classics of all ages with the domestic nonchalance that was of the Allman Brothers Band: teerrific melodic progressions, breathtaking guitar phrases, acrobatic solos and duets, and, towering over everything else, the raspy, shrill and very "black" vocals of colonel Hampton. The album peaked with Quinius Thoth, a suite that crossed Sun Ra and Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

Mirrors Of Embarrassment (1993) continued to promote the revival of the southern jam. However, this time the combo remained more faithful to the song format, despite ornating with mesmerizing group improvisations the funky theme song of No Ego`s Under Water, the jazzy Shoeless Joe and Payday, the western-swing numbers Lost My Mule In Texas and Swing. By their standards, it was old-fashioned music.

Hampton died in 2017.

Ai tempi passo` per lo piu` inosservato l'album doppio della Hampton Grease Band, Music To Eat (Columbia, 1971 - Legacy - 2002), che deliberatamente tentava di assorbire e fondere gli idiomi di tre capolavori come Ummagumma (Pink Floyd), Trout Mask Replica (Captain Beefheart) e Eat A Peach (Allman Brothers). A guidare quel branco di reietti di Atlanta erano il chitarrista Harold Kelling e il cantante Bruce Hampton, quest'ultimo gia` titolare dei Four Of Nine (un sestetto). Jam come Halifax fanno invidia anche a Zappa.

Sparirono rapidamente dalla scena, ma alla fine del decennio Hampton ebbe ancora l'occasione di registrare due album: One Ruined Life (Pine Tree) nel 1978 e Skin Deep Yeah (Jonathan David Earle). Negli anni Ottanta Hampton vivacchio` con i New Ice Age e poi con i Late Bronze Age, dei quali uscirono a partire dal 1980 Outside Looking Out (Landslide), Route Two e Isles Of Langerhan. Nel 1987, infine, Hampton, auto-nominatosi colonnello, pubblico` Arkansas (Landslide) e diede vita agli Arkansas Travelers.

Il "colonnello" e` tornato alla ribalta nel 1992 con la Aquarium Rescue Unit, un settetto un po' "freak" che annovera Chuck Leavell alle tastiere, due percussionisti (Larry Jones, alias Count Mbutu, e Jeff Sipe, alias Apt Q258), il truce bassista Oteil Burbridge, il chitarrista logorroico Jimmy Herring e il diabolico mandolinista Matt Mundy.

Il disco omonimo registrato dal vivo (per la Capricorn) e` uno di quelli che riporta in auge le jam improvvisate. Il sound e` rimasto quella stratosferica e sgangheratissima miscela di tutti i verbi del sud (blues, jazz, rock, country, gospel, funk), ancora intrisa di sardonico spirito hippie. Il combo scorrazza fra classici di tutte le epoche con la stessa naturalezza domestica che fu il marchio di fabbrica della Allman Brothers Band: grandi progressioni melodiche, attacchi mozzafiato delle chitarre, assoli e duetti acrobatici, e su tutto i vocalizzi "nerissimi", rauchi e sgolati, di Hampton. Swingante alla grande dall'inizio alla fine, l'album tocca forse l'apice di genialita` e sregolatezza in Quinius Thoth, a meta` strada fra Sun Ra e il Zappa di Weasels Ripped My Flesh.

Il nuovo album in studio del 1993, Mirrors Of Embarrassment, lo conferma alla testa del movimento di rivalutazione della jam sudista. Il combo si attiene comunque alla forma della canzone popolare, infiorettando di magistrali improvvisazioni collettive la sigla funky di No Ego`s Under Water, le jazzate Shoeless Joe e Payday, il western swing di Lost My Mule In Texas e Swing. Musica d'altri tempi.