Art Jackson's AtrocityGout
Released 1974 on Columbia Records (unreleased promo)
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 10/11/2007ce
Only thing is, you’ll have to hunt the blogs for it. Recorded in 1974, the album was cut as a promo by Columbia, who then went on to drop both the group AND the album, which is unreleased to this day. “The horror…the horror…” No one’s sure why (info is slim to none on this group and album), but most rumors have to do with Art Jackson’s drug abuse… In any case, the album has perfect sound quality – the only source is the promo LP, of course, and it sounds phenomenal.
The Miles connection surfaces again: Art Jackson was a twenty year-old guitarist whom Miles Davis himself recommended to Columbia records. Apparently Davis even funded the recording of the album. The Atrocity was put together around Jackson, an 11-member collective of hard-rockin’, psychedelia-lovin’, jazz-playin’ motherfuckers (two saxophonists, four drummers, two keyboardists, a guy on reeds, a guy on bass, a guy on “effects”), none of whom I’ve ever heard of (much like Art Jackson himself).
The five long tracks on Gout center around Jackson’s guitar, and the kid is Pete Cosey reborn; the stuff on here sounds almost identical to what Cosey was performing on the Agharta and Pangaea albums. That same sort of fucked-up, psychedelic distortion which goes from raging and chaotic one moment to spaced-out drones the next, the strange tunings, the works. Only thing is, unlike Cosey, Jackson’s not above playing a power chord or three, so the album packs a definite metal-rock punch. I mean, it’s fantastic, the whole thing.
The superbly-named “Shaft In Afghanistan” opens the album. Jackson’s guitar is on super-fucked mode, sounding like a cyclic tone. The rhythm section lays down a menacing, throbbing track, which Jackson and the sax & reeds proceed to riff over. Jackson soon leaves the actual “song” to the others, instead riffing and roaring with all manner of guitar sounds across the track. He’s everywhere, from wah-wah to thick distortion to cosmic fuzz. Things cool down three minutes in, but it’s only a fake-out; the track comes right back in. Jackson funks it up on wah-wah, with studio-tricked handclaps providing additional percussion. There's all sorts of electronic gimmickry on the album; this isn’t just some quickly recorded demo. This eventually calms down again into a sort of funky ambience – but it’s just another fake-out! The track rips right back up, the drums so superbly recorded (and no doubt closely-miked) that they seem to pound within the caverns of your skull.
“Arabian Fabian” (another great title!) comes in with total menace, until a faux-lite jazz tune pops up. Funky, proto-drum’n’bass drumkit and sax. But this SOON becomes something altogether un-lite. Echoed murk creeps across the track, eerie wails, treated reeds, and dubbed-out sax bleats. Those close-up drums kick in and we’re in an altogether heavier, funkier groove. The first half of the track belongs to the Atrocity, with Jackson throwing in brief fills and licks on his mutated guitar. Things collapse into psychedelic ambience at the five-minute mark; free jazz with plinking guitar and tapped cymbal. But ominous guitar fuzz hovers in the distance, a starving wolf preparing to attack. John Carpenter keyboards arise and give the track even more of a horror-movie feel. But it’s a ruse; the piano takes over, playing a melancholy melody as the other instruments recede into the murk. This doesn’t last. Those ultra-loud drums kick the shit out of you again, jumping out of nowhere, and suddenly we’re into the strangest of strange: ambient free jazz murk with heavy metal drums. The track eventually wears itself out, descending back into the murk from whence it came.
“Available Bush” sounds like some early ‘90s industrial mash, with in-your-face drums and ripping and roaring Ministry-esque guitar. The track throbs on an off-kilter funk grove, Jackson heading the proceedings with the twists and turns of his guitar. The sax plays a faux-Middle Eastern counter-melody to his blasts and blares. The bassist throws in a few snakelike fills of his own, but his instrument sounds anemic compared to Jackson’s acidic distortion. This one humps along for seven minutes which quickly pass by, never establishing anything beyond that off-kilter groove, but never suffering for it.
“Tomato Reign” is the epic of the album, 16+ minutes of cosmic echo and free jazz. It crawls out of the murk in the opening moments, ethereal and disjointed fills from the assembled players. Things continue in this dubbed-out vein for a few minutes; nothing on the level of the Taj Mahal Travelers, but close…along the lines of the last half of Miles’ 1975 shows, when Cosey et al would let it all hang out in improvisatory bouts of experimental noise and abstraction. Pounding, tribal drums which pop out of the murk and then disappear. Bleated sax fills which float across the sound spectrum. Even animalistic grunts, growls, and screams from the group. This culminates in ultra-fucked guitar from Jackson, sounding again like some cyclic tone from hell, and then someone (a group member? a sample from some obscure film?) states in the calmest tones, “Fuck her. Let her rot.” A few more minutes of banging, echoed drums and bleating, mournful fills from the sax, and that’s it: the freest noise-skronk ever comes to a close.
“Let’s go!” someone yells, and we’re straight into the pounding, pissed-off proto-metal of the title track, “Gout.” This is the rock version of the preceding track, another rhythmless excursion into all things free, only packing a wallop in the guitar distortion and overall menace. It pounds and snarls for six minutes, never finding a groove, preferring to live in its own sonic hellhole of chaotic din. Finally it builds to a climax of sorts, with a few final bashes on the drumkit, and the record’s over.
To be fair, you can see why Columbia refused to release this. “Gout” is the type of album you’d only find on some free jazz label, or, if it was recorded today, some ultra-hip indie label. But Columbia in the mid-1970s? Releasing this groundless swell of jazz-metal ambience? Hard to believe. But those master tapes are out there, somewhere, as is the full story of what exactly happened to Art Jackson and his Atrocity. In the meantime, we can only listen to their one recorded album, and wonder.