CD & Book Reviews
The Cherry Electric
What a fun CD! Originally released in 1995 on San Francisco's Weasel Disc, this hard-to-find little gem has been reissued by Milwaukee's Internal Combustion label, and is well worth tracking down.
Known mostly as a quirky folk/rock singer/songwriter (he's recorded for independent folk labels Flying Fish and Gadfly), John Kruth is also a journalist, author, and music historian whose oeuvre includes Bright Moments, a biography of idiosyncratic jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. On this, his first all-instrumental disc, Kruth serves up a tasty gumbo of folk, experimental jazz, hip-hop, and world beat with a healthy dose of lunacy, prominently featuring his cherry red 1957 Fender Mandocaster (tuned to ADF#A, if you're keeping score). The fact that the disc is dedicated to both avant-garde jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and the Carnatic mandolin maestro U Srinivas should give you some idea of what you're in for.
"Karmachanic," the leadoff number, follows a fairly conventional AABB 16-bar folk structure, but a number of layered electric and acoustic mandolin parts elevate it above the ordinary. "Wabash Cannibal" takes the train-tune idiom for a wild ride, with defiantly out-of-tune Mandocaster licks and some great sax from Jason Todd—whose playing, in fact, is featured just as prominently as Kruth's on most of the tracks. There's a wicked turntable scratch groove on "Bertha Cool," and the weirdest Rolling Stones cover of the millennium has to be Kruth's free-jazz take on "Lady Jane," which he subtitles the "Brian Jones ghost dance mix" in honor of Jagger & Co.'s late guitarist.
"Midnight Hora," once again, is conventionally structured, but uniquely voiced: you won't hear tablas and tin whistle backing up an electric mandolin every day. There's more than a bit of New Orleans on "Parisha," while "Crazy Maker" is sort of a Wes-Montgomery-meets-
John-Zorn-in-the-Twilight-Zone thing: Kruth plays an insistent Mandocaster theme in double stops using an alternate tuning based on major sevenths and tritones (either that or he multitracked it), while Todd and the rhythm section riff like a wrecking crew. As if that weren't enough, "Weeping Statues" and "Mary Mandolin" are both haunting waltzes that lend a bittersweet touch to the proceedings. Kruth has said this may be his best CD, and who am I to disagree?
You can order a copy of The Cherry Electric directly from Internal Combustion. It's also available at Amazon.com.
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