The nutty professor
Eugene Chadbourne teams with oddball percussionists
During a Clusone Trio performance in New York, the drummer halts in mid-beat and slips away as the saxophonist begins his solo. Two minutes later he appears in the balcony resuming the beat perfectly on a steel chair, heckling and hooting to his bandmates below. Meet Dutch master drummer/nut Han Bennink. Tales of his unconventional, oddball performances abound: from his Groucho Marxian antics to his adamant use of found objects as percussion-- fishing line, potted plants, Frisbees, tools, discarded lumber. Bennink is even said to have joked that Canadian stages were too clean — there wasn't enough to play on them.
Although madcap, Bennink de-serves recognition as a brilliant percussionist. His group contributions are outstanding, and when not stealing the show, he at least shines in his duo collaborations, including those with Cecil Taylor and Misha Mengelberg. He's received praise from many of his collaborators, not the least of which his fellow madcap innovator of instrumentation, Dr. Eugene Chadbourne. "He was a big influence on me and was somebody I wanted to play with early on," Chadbourne says of Bennink.
The two first recorded together in 1980, along with trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, for a project released just this year as Jazz Bunker. A whirlwind of instrumentation and dribbling insanity, Jazz Bunker featured Chadbourne on guitar, dobro, piano, voice and "personal effects"; Bennink on drums, piano, saxophones, trombone and voice; and Kondo on trumpet, euphonium, percussion and voice. Chadbourne, early in his musical career, appreciated the fact that someone of Bennink's stature — someone who had already spent two decades playing with musicians such as Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon and Peter Brotzmann — would collaborate with him. "It's more than I can say for some people," Chadbourne admits.
The two would continue their experimentations together, including a duet featuring Chadbourne on banjo and Bennink on pizza box. Chadbourne, too, would eventually expand his arsenal of instruments beyond the traditional. His invention of the Electric Rake began to bring him his current cult status as a mad musical scientist. Using an ordinary garden rake and either a guitar pick-up or a fancy contact mic, Chadbourne plucked and shook his way into the hearts of flea-market inventors everywhere. "I come up with something every now and again," Chadbourne says of his musical inventions, "but there is serious doubt whether any of them sound as good as the Rake, the Plunger or the Toast-ar. Recently I made the Pump-Jo out of a banjo and a bicycle pump. It sort of does exercise music."
Always the experimenter, Chadbourne also tried his hand creating a family act, something not generally associated with fringe artists. In recent years, Chadbourne asked his young daughters, Molly and Lizzy, to contribute vocals on several recordings. However, the Chadbournes didn't endure as a group. "I had to stop with my daughters because they used to fight worse than the members of Motley Crue," he says. "And now they no longer seem interested."
But while Chadbourne is frequently associated with theatrical concepts and wacky revivalist musings, he remains a musician's musician. Throughout his career, Chadbourne has simultaneously worked with musicians from both the rock and experimental jazz worlds. His versatile Shockabilly group involved a collaboration with Shimmy Disc impresario Kramer, David Licht, cellist Tom Cora and sometime saxophonist/composer John Zorn. Blending avant-garde style improv with traditional county music, the group released five albums before moving on. Chadbourne continued to work with bands such as Camper Van Beethoven, Corrosion of Conformity and the Violent Femmes while collaborating with the likes of Snakefinger, George Lewis and U.K. drummer Paul Lovens.
Lovens, in particular, has proven to be one of Chadbourne's most enduring collaborators. A talented percussionist, Lovens has for decades been raking the contents of a small hardware store across his drum kit, all the while maintaining a steady beat for players such as Cecil Taylor and Alexander Von Schlippenbach. Chadbourne spoke well of his recent performances with Lovens.
Over the next month, Atlantans will be able to catch the good Dr. Chadbourne performing his musical surgery with both Lovens and Bennink, in separate performances at Earthshaking Music in East Atlanta. "I actually have been playing with [Lovens] a lot more in the past few years than Han," Chadbourne says. "I think the contrast will be interesting in that Paul and I have kind of developed a band, 'Me and Paul,' and play a lot of material really tightly, but still try to keep the really fresh spontaneous nature of it going. Anyway, to me, Paul and Han are the master drummers from the European scene. And anyway, I like them more than the American drummers."
Eugene Chadbourne and Han Bennink perform at Earthshaking Music, 543 Stokeswood Avenue, on Sun., Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Chadbourne performs with Paul Lovens at Earthshaking Music, Thurs., Oct. 12, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8. For more information, call 404-622-3355.