League-of-his-own guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Subterranean saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Atmospheric bassist Bill Laswell. Former Albert Ayler drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. Alone, each is a power tower of musical ideation. Together, they blind the sun. In 1988, these free-jazz atoms bonded to unleash their only studio molecule. Now remastered for the 21st century, it bleeds redder than ever.
Like Everyman Band before them or Krakatau after, Last Exit pummels through walls of expectation as if they were made of feathers. From these they fashion a giant pair of wings across 10 spines of reality. As Steve Lake so reverently describes in his liner notes: “There’s no false modesty in Last Exit, no false anything. The group is important precisely because its rush of sound is a heartfelt force. It sweeps away all the fakery that proliferates on both sides of the highbrow/lowbrow cultural divide.” None of that flavor has dulled these last three decades, and if anything has grown more piquant with age.
The most obvious politic at play on the scale of Iron Path is its balancing of opposites. “Prayer” feels like anything but as a growling bass eats into the foreground, one pathos-ridden chew at a time. But as the terminal illness of its build reaches a plateau, bells of immolation toll for those with water. Guitar and drums power through resistance like berserker prospectors panning for untranslated scriptures. And these they find in the proffered wisdom of Brötzmann’s horn, which by virtue of prophecy spews all of its treasures for the taking. So does “Marked For Death” reveal its hidden meanings with patience. Brötzmann’s soloing exemplifies the restraint required to unleash such morbid finality. In “Eye For An Eye,” too, Laswell blows smoke through gritted teeth: a mountain pushed through a chain-link fence, to the call of an interspace chant.
Some tracks are purposefully grounded in the everyday. “The Black Bat,” for instance, bears dedication to Japanese producer Aki Ikuta, who tragically died at the age of 33 as the result of a car accident the year this album was recorded. His restless spirit echoes throughout this piece, in which colors swirl into mournful timbre. Other passages are more obscure and require further peeling of the ears to appreciate. The title track, with its eastern infusions, whispers of simulacra slashed across time, while “Devil’s Rain” finds Sharrock rocking the cinematic edge as Brötzmann lobs the heart of a volcano into the exosphere.
“The Fire Drum” is one of two blatantly descriptive turns, boasting comet streaks of brilliance from the guitarist and reedman. “Sand Dancer,” on the other hand, is Laswell’s electric phoenix all the way. And if these seem too grounded in their spaces, one needn’t worry, as both “Detonator” and “Cut And Run” hybridize aggressive haunts with tidal preaching, until only one piece of advice remains: Structural failures are the birth of monumental impulse.
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