Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Solar Fire Trio

Solar Fire Trio

AOTM #77, October 2006ce
Released 2006 on Invada
Side One
  1. Breakthrough (26.13)
Side Two
  1. External Threat (25.43)

Note: For those of you on an electric trip, this Album Of The Month may come as a shock simply because its proto-metal is played on acoustic instruments. For those of you on an acoustic trip, its blurt may be anathema simply because of this band’s sheer unsignpostedness. But approach this record as a head clearer and watch the demons rise up out of your skull and clear off post haste, as The Solar Fire Trio first mush your branium, then dynorod it with a transcendental floss.

Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe

Hail to the visionaries, motherfuckers. Hail to those who wanna start the reconstruction. BUT – and it’s one hell of a big butt - in these times of dogmatism and Corporate Smotherfuckers, let’s also remember to hail the explorers, the musical nihilists, those who dare to stand at the edge of the abyss and… surf downwards. Fuck replacing shit, they scream, first let’s just destroy. And in this new 21st century world of believers – and Kamikaze believers at that – let’s put our hands together for the sons of chaos, confusion, assault and sonic battery. Welcome to the world of the Solar Fire Trio, brothers’n’sisters, an imaginary world in which the free jazz of the mid ‘60s made heroes and Gods of Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, a Walter Mitty world in which 1967’s witty ‘The Psychedelic Saxophone Of Charlie Nothing’1 had every young ‘un on the block picking up an alto or tenor sax instead of a solid bodied electric guitar. For The Solar Fire Trio is punks, punks and more punks, and their debut LP is the mutt’s nuts, the pig’s business, the cat’s arse. These gentlemen ain’t no gentlemen; they’re Blue Cheer to John Coltrane’s Hendrix, they’re The Stooges to Archie Shepp’s MC5, and they’re The Fugs to Albert Ayler’s Mothers Of Invention, got me?

From the off let’s get one thing straight… Solar Fire Trio is not jazz. Forget about the sax/sax/drums line up, these mung worshippers ain’t even jazz the way smacky James Chance conceived of it neither. Solar Fire Trio is rock’n’roll, brutal North African tribal rock’n’roll in its most singular form (they should have a naked lead singer/dancer at the front who utters not one word). The Solar Fire Trio is R&B at its most devolved and freeform, running the voodoo down down and evermore down. The Solar Fire Trio is devolved and dissolved Detroit soul, hard, gleaming, polished as the shiny bell ends of their righteous horns. Solar Fire Trio is a power trio not in the ‘So Jazz’ Cream mould but in the ‘So What’ Musica Transonic mould. This is “Religion, Brutality & A Dance Beat” as my erstwhile mentor and former manager of Liverpool’s Eric’s Club Roger Eagle used to call it. Yeah, Liverpool. Solar Fire Trio is comprised of three Liverpudlians with a biker rock attitude to free jazz, or is that a free jazz attitude to biker rock? Come to think of it, this music probably owes more to the behemoth soul of Grand Funk Railroad than it does even to John Coltrane’s superhuman cacophony. Is The Solar Fire Trio playing a medley of classic soul and R&B on this LP? It certainly sounds that way. As though each player were wearing headphones connected to the same communal iPod, Solar Fire Trio plays together as though united by some deeply ingrained inner soundtrack that only they can hear. Imagine early Blue Cheer jamming along with Eddie Floyd’s ‘Big Bird’ as their inner road map, so they could all hear where each other was at, but the audience would remain None The Wiser. Indeed, with regard to free jazz, only John Coltrane around ’67 is in any way as brutally wanton as these jackbooted thugs. Besides, this Solar Fire Trio stuff seems to be as much informed by the tumultuous Mars/Friction side of No Wave and Post Punk as it does by jazz. Indeed, like the legendary Klondike & York album THE HOLY BIBLE2, the only jazz elements here are the instruments3.

But who are these madmen who kick the bejayzuz out of jazz? Well, they ain’t completely unprovenaced, brothers’n’sisters. For starters, it’s Ray Dickaty AKA Ray Moonshake AKA Ray Spiritualized who nails that tenor sax, soul riffing like there’s an entire section there, occupying the midrange and baritones, as alto saxophonist Dave Jackson free-squeeks the alto sax into Patty Waters/Yoko Ono’s attic, these two Jack Horners barely kept in check by drummer Steve Belger, who lays down the kind of bassless soul rhythms that only thee most confident drummers dare to do. Belger is to Solar Fire Trio what Guy Evans was to the nihilistic soul of GODBLUFF-period Van Der Graaf Generator, or what Tony Williams was to his own bassless power trio Lifetime. If Solar Fire Trio were true jazz not punk, there’d be some redundant ever-descending ber-doom-doom-doom-doom upright bass plunking away in the background, but these gentlemen know a big ass double bass would add nothing to the yawp PLUS it would stop them from roaring up and down the country in their old beat up silver Mercedes estate earning the dollar. So instead, Ray Dickaty often takes on the role of the entire horn section single-handed, blowing with such a supreme rock confidence that Dave Jackson’s alto sax is allowed to soar off into Van Halenish stratospherics like Gerd Dudek on the title track of The Wolfgang Dauner Septet’s FREE ACTION4. Yup, like over opinionated Jewish fundamentalists at a circumcision rite, Messrs. Dickaty. Jackson and Belger have pruned it all back to the basics, not only removing the piano and all of the landmarks that such a chordal instrument brings, but also removing all other musical rafts that could possibly give listeners something/anything to hang on to as the stormy seas rage around them. As I previously mentioned, it all sounds like these guys been listening to ’67 John Coltrane septet stuff through a broken Dansette with only treble and one speaker working. These stoned motherfuckers done fucked off McCoy Tyner’s piano, Joe Brazil’s flute, both bass players, and reduced the rest to a heady and distilled broth of just Pharoah Sanders’ tenor sax, Elvin Jones’ drums and Coltrane’s own tenor. Under a stairwell on a connecting floor somewhere between the attic where The Stooges recorded the 17-minute version of ‘LA Blues’ and the smoky basement jazz club in which Albert Ayler performed the Plastic People Of The Universe-like ‘Holy Ghost’… that’s where Solar Fire Trio currently dwell. Too rock to attract be-beret’d Little Miss Heartbreaker/Homemaker types and too jazz to court the Living Rock Goddess. For our purposes, brothers’n’sisters, that’s just where we need them to stay – well hung at dawn, betwixt and between, forever standing at the tuning fork in the road, three open toads horny for the horn.

Where Next?

In conclusion, brothers’n’sisters, I have one plea. If yooz about to make a purchase of one free sax blurtothon, then please make sure it ain’t by ‘Trane or Archie or Albert but by the Solar Fire Trio themselves, because these guys is living this racket and schlepping its slithery Lokian torso up and down the motorways of the UK as we speak. And, furthermore, what better reason is there to buy a record than to know that it’s a piece of contemporary art parping its vibrations directly into the current of the post-everything 21st Century, its cascading avalanche of pure white snow pulsating through the overly caffeinated veins of popular culture. Call me a kibitzer but, for the future, I’d love to see Solar Fire Trio bringing in a little order to random moments, maybe a little Teo Macero-style orchestration and portentous instant ritual in the style of John Coltrane’s OM introduction, something to wrestle meaning from the chaos, if only to let the whole thing be subsumed back into that chaos. Or maybe something really fucking contentious, like Mary Maria Parks’ vocal contribution to Albert Ayler’s MUSIC IS THE HEALING FORCE OF THE UNIVERSE. But maybe that’s just my own sense of the ridiculous, and I shouldn’t foist any trip on to these full-on motherfuckers, especially as I’ve heard two other tracks by this bunch – the 16 minutes of ‘Vanishing Point’ and the 20-minutes of ‘Incitement To Life’ – which showcase the trio in a more lyrical mood and which would make an ideal second album. Perhaps the best thing about The Solar Fire Trio is that they exist at all. Rock’n’fuckin’roll, as they say.

  1. Released in 1967 on John Fahey’s Tacoma Records, Charlie Nothing was the spewdonym of author Charles Martin Simon. Although the artist himself didn’t take his album seriously, its release on Fahey’s label meant that the heads adopted it as a heavyweight contender in the New Jazz stakes.
  2. The Klondike & York LP THE HOLY BOOK allows Chad Stockdale’s single tenor saxophone far more space than Solar Fire Trio, often providing a horizon of analogue synthesizer as the sole ‘context’ for the drums’n’sax free forming. Released on Weird Forest Records, this exhilarating vinyl album must surely be due for a CD re-issue.
  3. Everything in this primal soup screams out the name Nihilist Spasm Band, whose 1968 LP RECORD I copped for £1.80 back in 1978 and proceeded to lambaste everyone on the L’pool scene with whenever they stupidly dropped in for tea. Like The Solar Fire Trio, Nihilist Spasm Band was an out-there-a-minute ensemble with a penchant for jamming along to their own collective inner soundtrack, and whose fifteen-minute barrage ‘Destroy The Nations’ was included on the Canadian nihilist film ‘No Movie’.
  4. Like the Coltrane references, Wolfgang Dauner’s move outside jazz into freerock began in 1967, when his drummer was still Mani Neumaier soon to be of Guru Guru. Indeed, while the 1967 MPS Records LP FREE ACTION is still entirely situated in jazz, the actions of the Dauner septet are echoing John Coltrane’s ensemble but with entirely different instruments. Whilst Gerd Dudek’s tenor sax is often indistinguishable from Jean-Luc Ponty’s vertigo-inducing violin, so the lower registers swerve like tigers on Vaseline as Jurgen Karg’s bass fuses with the cello of future bass star Eberhard Weber.