Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hang Em High - Tres Testosterones (2017)

Hang Em High

Lucien Dubuis - bass & contrabass clarinets
Bond - 2 string bass, electronics
Alfred Vogel - drums, percussion

Tres Testosterones

GIG ANT 2017



By Rick Joines

On a May evening in 2012, passing by a bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts - Atwood Tavern - I heard what I assumed was a band covering a Morphine song. I wandered in. Fatback and greens were on the menu. A slew of good Kentucky bourbon lined the back of the bar. What else could a Southern boy do but belly up and enjoy the fare? The band kept playing Morphine songs. Could this possibly be a Morphine tribute band? How unlikely. Yet how cool if it was. Turns out, it wasn’t a cover band at all - it was Vapors of Morphine - original members Dana Colley on baritone sax and Jerome Deupree at drums, with Jeremy Lyons replacing the fallen genius, Mark Sandman, on two-string bass and vocals. Once, back at the end of the last century, during my grad school days, I became addicted to Morphine, and now, after a decade off the stuff, I was getting a straight fix. It became immediately addictive again. I dusted off my CD's and starting shooting again.

Somewhere around the time I wandered into Atwood’s, Bond’s old addiction to Morphine also kicked in. He scored a two-string bass, hooked a bass clarinetist and a drummer, and they played a Morphine tribute gig in Poland. In 2013, the trio released "Hang Em High", and in 2014, the raucous "Beef & Bottle". "Tres Testosterones" is just as rollicking as those two, but it marks an evolution in the band’s identity and imagination. On this album, Hang Em High perfects the dark, sophisticated acerbic grit reminiscent of Morphine, yet they realize a mischievous, dirty, sexy cleverness that is all their own. 

Most of the songs on "Tres Testosterones" follow rock song structure. Bond and Vogel lay down libidinous rhythms that establish earthy themes while Dubuis’ clarinets provides the Mark Sandmanesque crooning, off-beat, raunchy, bent-note melodic lines that often soar into ejaculatory, ecstatic improvised solos. The ruttish, muscular playing of Bond and Vogel gives proof to the altered noun of the album’s title: these are three (tre/tres) very (très) macho dudes disseminating virile tunes, but these studs pull it off with a wanton wink that is more ironic than X-rated.

The song titles provocatively play on the band’s boasted excess of Wild Western testosterone: there is the bad guy threat "Plata o Plomo" (silver or a bullet), an obligatory "Tumbleweed", and a song for the morning after too many beans out on the range, "Bowel of Power". "Bella Mortadella" pays homage to the Italian "bologna of death" - a mash of leftover pig parts, spices, salt, sugar, and chunks of fat that could possibly be the worst-for-you food on earth, but is, they say, addictive. There is also "Col’Donuts", which, depending on how you say it, might refer to a mountain of donuts or a big ol’ mound of testes. 

This is an album that can be enjoyed on many levels. The sophisticated individual playing and the interplay can be as superbly tight as a prog or math rock band, yet it can veer daringly into loose, exploratory modes of free jazz. There is also plenty of toe-tapping pleasure to be had focusing on how one player or the other establishes and riffs on a theme, on Bond’s sinister bass lines, on the perfection of Vogel’s sweet timing, or on getting lost in Dubuis’ sinuous melodies that mutate into unhinged solos drifting over rhythmic high plains. 

The Morphine influences are obvious, but everyone has their influences. Hang Em High draws from Morphine, yet their experience playing with luminaries of the jazz and avant-garde world give them artistic resources that transcend the original. They play with expectations of genre while rearranging them and turning them inside out. This is a fun record. I dare you to listen to it and resist its manly charms.

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