Neutrons


Band: The Denison/Kimball Trio
Album: Neutrons
Best song: “The Traveling Salesman” is a classic.
Worst song: “Issa”

I mentioned this in the Stereolab bit, but when I developed my first passionate interest in music, I was totally open to anything. Well, anything that fit into the parameters of “on a local label or something that was distributed by Touch and Go records.” That led to tons of music that would become some of my favorites — June of 44, certainly — and some that I’d ignore for the rest of my life. Girls Against Boys comes to mind, as does Killdozer and, to a lesser extent, Brick Layer Cake. 

I don’t know if labels/distributors still do this, but when I was in radio, indie labels would send around samplers. Touch and Go did it as a yearly thing and I took some of the samplers from the stations I worked at during those times (I am a thief). The 1997 Touch and Go one, specifically, is a gem. It had Man or Astroman? with “Lo-Bat,” something from Calexico’s Spoke, something from Shapes, Delta 72’s “The Cut,” a song by Storm&Stress and “Cloister,” which remains one of my favorite songs. Touch & Go’s artists were pretty widely varied at the time, hence Delta 72 being on the same sampler at Man or Astroman?.

I think, in my 16-year-old brain, every song on that sample was great. I don’t know that I feel the same way now, but it did form a definite value system for me, teaching me what I liked and what I did not. The Delta 72 is good for what it is, but that’s not my type of music. Ditto Pegboy (I’ll never love that type of punk rock).

I’ll never completely wrap my brain around jazz and experimental jazz/free jazz is definitely a big part of that. I’d only heard of Ken Vandermark before I’d heard the The Denison/Kimball Trio’s “The Traveling Salesman” on the 1997 T&G sampler; he was a giant in the Chicago scene, but I was 16 and afraid of free jazz. I’d done some research into Duane Denison and Jim Kimball, knowing that they’d been in the Jesus Lizard (who I loved).

But, I only did this research after I’d heard “The Traveling Salesman.” The song is… hypnotic. The DK3’s main players — Vandermark is a full-time guest on Neutrons — trade rhythm section steadiness while Vandermark goes nuts on the sax. I heard it and was transfixed, as my burgeoning love of post-rock gave me an appreciation of adding and substracting parts from a constant theme. Most of the songs on Neutrons have that trademark of Kimball steadying the ship while Vandermark dazzles. “Landshark Pt.2” could fill any jazz club now, while “Monte’s Casino” and the title track show Denison and Vandermark trading lead lines. The records without Vandermark are certainly great. “Lullaby” is hypnotic and gentle, while “Heavy Water” has some very cool sounds and atmosphere.

Still, “The Traveling Salesman” amazes. Vandermark shows why he was such a giant, all while accompanied by amazing jazz players in rock musicians’ bodies.

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