Tuesday, May 19, 2009

wax boetics

I saw Kieran Hebden at that Björk/ Dirty Projectors mash-up the other night, who reminded me of something I recently wrote for Wax Poetics #34: The Jazz Issue about funky Moog drummer (and Jaco backer) Bruce Ditmas. Since it's not available online (and good luck finding mp3s), the text is below:
The name "Bruce" tends to hang around my family tree: it’s my youngest uncle’s name, my mother’s second husband’s name, not to mention her favorite Super Bowl halftime performer. While mining a vein of odd records that wound up in an antiques mall in South Texas (including hand-painted synth records, Italo no-wave 12-inches, and French electroacoustic LPs with 3-D glasses attached, all with the original Wax Trax price tags still affixed), I naturally gravitated towards one in a glowing red sleeve with “Bruce Ditmas” and “Yellow” written in a kinked wire font. If the long-haired beardo in Cazals cast in yellow wasn’t enticing enough, then his array of gear was: drums, Moog drum, Mini-Moog synthesizer, ARP 2600 synthesizer, electric congas, cuica, percussion.

The Atlantic City-born Ditmas backed everyone from Judy Garland and Babs to Chet Baker and Lee Konitz, even appearing on Jaco Pastorius’s Jaco album from 1974. Around 1976-77, he began dabbling in electronics and drum machines in earnest, collaborating intently with abstract vocalist Joan La Barbara (the future Mrs. Morton Subotnick). On his own, Ditmas was no doubt digging the fault line between jazz chop-shop noodling and proto-techno klingklang, all in the shadow of Mt. Patrick Gleeson.

Released in 1977 by Wizard Records (responsible for another Ditmas record, a mesmeric flute album by Carl Stone, and two early La Barbara efforts), Bruce extends thanks to “Trevor and Kim’s foot” though true gratitude goes to guests La Barbara and ECM trumpeter Enrico Rava. Opening cut “Surprise Hotel” was written by Rava and is his lone appearance. It’s also the busiest most jazzbo cut, with La Barbara on “voice with instant flanger” (though “batshit chitter” is more sonically-correct). “L’Unita” --with its wiggle, gurgle, twitter, and spurt-- could be spliced into a half-dozen decent disco edits. As is, though as is it uncannily mixes well with Paul McCartney’s similarly navel-gazing synth doodle, “Temporary Secretary.”

On the second side is where Ditmas relaxes his jazz muscle and does deeper exploratory work. He references Fritz Lang on the minimal “Dr. Mabuse” while the sprawling “Aural Suspension” combines his analog wow with drum break butter. “Soweto” remains a singular concoction though: crawling through La Barbara’s Afro-alien mewl, Bruce slows what sounds like Ann Peebles’ rain blops until it feels like cough syrup.