When We Return

Oh joy! Oh deep joy! Oh deepest of unadulterated joys!

I just unearthed an MP3 of what is possibly my the favouritest ever slab of un-listened-to-in-years vinyl lying in my cupboard. “When we Return”, by Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society, from the album Nasty. One reviewer has the following to say about the album:

“Small World,” featuring the unison horns of Lee Rozie, Charles Brackeen, and Byard Lancaster, is the most fiercely swinging track in all avant-fusion. After that Jackson carries rhythm and melody on his kit for 10 minutes as the vibes swirl around him, and then there’s a haunting harmolodic blues. But overdisc it’s back to eso. The title piece is okay if you can’t get enough Ornette homages, but “When We Return,” which takes up almost a third of the record, is your basic freebie-jeebie noisemaking session, more accomplished than “Radio Ethiopia” but less endearing conceptually. By now, Jackson’s supposed to know better.

Well, I don’t remember Small World (though I don’t doubt what he says about it), but When we Return only happens to be the most fiercely anything track in the whole of fucking anythingsville. It never fails to rock my boat so violently that I end up keelhauled.

It starts off so innocuously: a slow, plaintive harmony on the horns, backed up with a flute. Then Shannon Jackson kicks in, a shuffling drumbeat that’s like a gorilla in a lace tuxedo, so powerful yet so restrained. The first bass player starts up, a barely noticeable low-register rumble of octave-poppings. The second bass player cuts over him, all spidery trebly funk-lines that make him sound like he’s suffering from cerebral palsy. The line seems to bear no relation to anything else that’s going on. The timing is completely out there. And yet somehow it pulls the entire thing together. Vernon Reid’s guitar toys with skanking a few offbeats, jazz-noodles around, then suddenly picks up a melody, spiralling descents into funk-shuffle. A couple of times around, and the drums start to loosen up, encouraging the other instruments to follow. Everything spirals out of control. The treble-bass floods with distortion and goes off on a free-jazz heavy-metal odyssey. One by one everyone joins in, until guitar, bass, horns, vibes are squeaking, honking, flumping, wanking and generally making a huge mess. For nearly ten minutes this goes on, the drums more out of control than any of them and yet holding on to the rhythym the whole way through thanks to Ronald Shannon Jackson and his eight rubber arms. From time to time, the horns repeat the opening theme, completely out of place as it’s a two-hundred-and-fifty-sixth of the speed of anything else being played. A crazy, wonderful, beautiful maelstrom.

And then, suddenly, Vernon Reid’s guitar does a swan dive and falls upwards, the chaos dies down around him, Shannon Jackson re-defines order, and like a cockroach crawling out from the wreckage of a nuclear war, that crazy tinny funk-spastic bassline fires up once more. Everyone takes one last, flawlessly regimented parade around the main theme, and we end on one huge assonant orgasm.

Words cannot express how much I fucking LOVE this tune. I’m sorry for trying. Shannon Jackson, you are a fucking GENIUS!

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