Junk Genius

Ghost of Electricity

SGL 1525-2

**** “…the sublime Ghost of Electricity finds [Junk Genius] drawing inspirational fuel from the immense and varied fabric of American folk music…Stunningly recorded, the album is soaked with a brooding, troubled energy that one suspects tormented many a forgotten bluesman…Of the more relaxed tracks, “Aberdeen” is a heart-breaking gem, with Schott putting aside his electric axe to breathe pure soul from a national steel guitar…a powerful and enjoyable document that rewards repeated listens.”

— Tom Benton, Allmusic.com


Junk Genius’s first record consisted of fractured, go-for-broke treatments of difficult bebop compositions, and earned high praise from Down Beat, Option, etc. Five years later they return with a different focus: original songs that sound as if they’d come from old field recordings, recovered artifacts inspiring a new oral tradition. Through hymns, stomps, hollers, and anarchic strum-alongs, Junk Genius trace the border regions between alternative jazz, improvisation, and the primal music of Dock Boggs, Son House, the Carter Family, and the Georgia Sea Islands. Goldberg Schott Dunn and Wollesen play together as one, and are beautifully recorded. But this is no exercise in nostalgia: while it moves the listener with the reverence of its melodies, the rhythmic feel is dynamic and unsettling and the overall tone of the record both liberating and tragic.

John Schott writes: “Our first record, released in 1995 (on Knitting Factory), was the result of seven months of intensive study of the music of Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. Though some compositions by Parker and Gillespie are in every jazz musician’s repertoire, the more intricate pieces by these composers are often ignored. After poring over the original recordings with a magnifying glass, we opted not to re-create those performances, but instead to offer a commentary on them, refracting the spirit of those incendiary three-minute 78s from the vantage point of our contemporary moment.

“For our second release, we again wanted to have a unifying project that would tie the record together. The present CD is in some measure a commentary on American folk music, a catch-all label for the many musical traditions that spring from rural Southern cultures. The raw material for our study was provided by the field recordings of Alan Lomax, the famous Folkways anthology of Harry Smith, and the vast archival project of the Austrian label Document. Artists such as Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, Son House, and the Carter Family, combined with Sacred Harp singing and work songs, provided a template for what song might mean. We set ourselves the challenge of writing music that could take its place among these recordings, songs that could almost have been passed along through oral tradition. We wanted to preserve the messy, knotted and tangled pictures the music presented us, and not prettify it or put quotation marks around it. We didn’t want to simplify or needlessly complicate.

“Our model for the personal transformation of folk song was Bob Dylan, whose song ‘Visions Of Johanna’ provides the title of our record. From the outset of his career Dylan had an uncanny feeling for the strange, off-balance world the old songs inhabit. He knew that the violence of the imagery, the Old Testament justice, and the naked expressions of desire present in the songs were all but underground in the conservative ’50s milieu from which he emerged. In our way we had attempted a similar re-claiming of the almost malevolent genius of bebop on our first record. Folk traditions have of course been used by jazz musicians before, memorably by Jimmy Giuffre, Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler. Moreover, jazz is itself a sort of folk music, mixing individual genius with an implicit history that is continually reworked.

“The foregoing should not be understood as a prescription for how to listen to the record. The members of this group have a recording history, both individually and collectively, that this CD updates and reflects in various ways.”

Ben Goldberg grew up in Denver, received his undergraduate music degree from UC Santa Cruz and an M.A. in Composition from Mills College, and lives in Oakland. He was a pupil of clarinetist Rosario Mazzeo, and studied with Steve Lacy and Joe Lovano. His New Klezmer Trio (featuring Wollesen) expanded Jewish musical traditions through avant-garde reinterpretations and new compositions (Masks and Faces, 1990/96, and Melt Zonk Rewire, ’95, Tzadik). Other CDs include duets with Wollesen, The Relative Value of Things (33 1/4 Records, ’93); Light at the Crossroads (Songlines, ’97) co-led by Marty Ehrlich, and featuring Dunn and Wollesen; the Ben Goldberg Trio, Here by Now (Music and Arts, ’97), featuring Dunn; and What Comes Before (Tzadik) with Schott and Michael Sarin, Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin (Victo) featuring Larry Ochs, Lisle Ellis, Schott, Dunn and Sarin, and Twelve Minor (Avant) featuring Miya Masaoka, Rob Sudduth, Carla Kihlstedt, Dunn and Wollesen, all ’98. Forthcoming is a Giuffre-inspired trio (featuring Schott and Dunn) on NuScope. The 11-piece Ben Goldberg’s Brainchild performs his spontaneous compositions. He has also performed/recorded with the Graham Connah Group, recorded with Charlie Hunter and Roswell Rudd, and performed in John Zorn’s short-lived “West Coast” Masada (with Dunn and Wollesen), as well as with George Lewis, Cecil Taylor, Bobby Bradford, Andrew Hill, Mark Dresser, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Michael Moore, Kenny Wheeler, John Tchicai, Alvin Curran, and Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb’s New York Composers Orchestra. “Goldberg’s been stretching into ever more distant reaches of jazz conception, playing with energy, imagination and a hell of a lot of soul.” (Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly)

John Schott grew up in Seattle, where he studied with Gary Peacock and Jerry Granelli and composers David Schiff and Janice Giteck, graduating from Cornish College of the Arts with a BFA in classical composition. Since moving to the Bay area in 1988 he has performed and/or recorded with John Zorn (a Herbie Nichols project with Ben Goldberg), Henry Kaiser, Duck Baker, Peter Apfelbaum, and Julian Preister. He was a member of T.J. Kirk, a guitarists’ collaboration with Charlie Hunter and Will Bernard (2 CDs, s/t, ’95, and If Four was One, ’96, Warner Brothers), and Snorkel, with Goldberg, Dunn and Scott Amendola (Bootleg, NoBarCode, ’96). His new trio, the Typical Orchestra, weaves together Delta blues, old-timey music, free jazz, contemporary classical, and klezmer. He has composed two song cycles on Jewish texts: In These Great Times (for tenor, electric guitar, bass and drums) premiered at Lincoln Center’s Radical Jewish Culture festival (CD on Tzadik, ’97, featuring John Horton Murray, Dunn and Wollesen); and Ashrey Ha-zorim, on texts by Elias Canetti and Avraham ben-Yitzakh, which was premiered as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival’s Riffs On Tradition concert in 1998. ROVA recently commissioned and premiered his 7-movement piece Second Thoughts and toured Eons. Larry Ochs’ Invisible Quartet, forthcoming on Black Saint, features Schott and Dunn, and New World will be releasing Schott’s Shuffle Play (Elegies for the Recording Angel) with his 11-piece chamber group Ensemble Diglossia, a work combining composed and improvised music with early archival recordings (circa 1890). “Schott’s pointillism and suspenseful restraint suggest what might have been if the electric guitar had existed when Schoenberg composed Pierrot Lunaire.” (Joe Gore, Guitar Player)

Born in Eureka, Trevor Dunn graduated with a B.A. in Music from Humboldt State University, and studied bass with Red Callender, Mark Dresser and Stephen Tramontozzi. With Mike Patton he co-founded the avant-rock band Mr. Bungle (s/t, ’91, Disco Volante, ’94, and California, ’99, Warner Brothers) and the hardcore project Fantômas (s/t, Ipecac Records, ’99); he leads the surrealist-inspired Trio-Convulsant (Debutantes & Centipedes, Buzz, ’98) featuring Wollesen and guitarist Adam Levy. Other collaborations include Secret Chiefs 3 with Danny Heifetz and Trey Spruance (First Grand Constitution and Bylaws, Amarillo, ’96), Pantychrist with Bob Ostertag, Justin Bond, and Otomo Yoshihide (s/t, Seeland, ’99), and Phillip Greenlief/Trevor Dunn (s/t, Evander, ’97). He also performs/records with various groups led by Graham Connah and with Schott’s Ensemble Diglossia, has toured with Zorn’s Masada and Cobra, Hal Stein, and Donald “Duck” Bailey, recorded with Francis Wong, Rob Sudduth, Bob Ostertag, Miya Masaoka, Jeff Chan, Dmitri Matheny, Jon Hassell, Tin Hat Trio, and Jessica Jones, and performed with Kronos Quartet, ROVA, Tom Waits, Wayne Horvitz, Terry Riley, James Tenney, Ellery Eskelin, Gerry Hemingway, Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Kaiser, John Tchicai, Eyvind Kang, Mark Izu, and Beth Custer, among others.

A native of Santa Cruz, Kenny Wollesen spent seven years in San Francisco but has been in New York for several years now. He leads his own organ-based group The Wollesens, has recently been performing with Jim Hall and John Scofield, and is part of a new Zorn band also featuring John Medeski and Marc Ribot. On record he can be heard with Zorn (Bar Kokba and Filmworks Vol. 8), Steve Bernstein’s Sex Mob, Leni Stern, Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, Ron Sexsmith, Mitchell Froom, Nick Cave, Jim Hall, Eddie Henderson, Dmitri Matheny, Michael Blake’s Slow Poke, Ellery Eskelin, Andrea Parkins, Briggan Krauss, Ilhan Ersahin, Drew Gress’s Jagged Sky, Dim Sum Clip Job, Rob Sudduth, Dave Binney, the collective group Lan Xang (Hidden Gardens, Naxos), guitarist Steve Cardenas, Chris Dahlgren, Greg Cohen, Curlew, etc., and on Songlines also with Brad Shepik & the Commuters and Andy Laster’s Interpretations of Lessness.

**** “…modern jazz with a fresh yet curiously interesting slant…” — Glenn Astarita, AllAboutJazz.com

avant folk/jazz
  1. Gone Away
  2. Hollersdale
  3. Angle
  4. Long Way
  5. Aberdeen
  6. Strung
  7. When
  8. Indication
  9. Itta Bena
  10. Forty Years
  • Ben Goldberg, clarinet; John Schott, electric & National Steel guitar
  • Trevor Dunn, double bass
  • Kenny Wollesen, drums
  • Compositions by Ben Goldberg (1, 4, 6, 8, 10), John Schott (2, 5, 9), Goldberg/Schott (3, 7)
  • Analogue recording mixed to 24 bits/88.2K; CD is HDCD encoded
  • Release Date
    October 12, 1999