Grunge jazz, redux

Back in 1994, Seattle-based jazz keyboardist Wayne Horvitz jumped on the grunge bandwagon and formed perhaps the only “grunge jazz” band around.

For three years, Horvitz and his group, Pigpen, combined the improvisatory fire of John Zorn’s Naked City with the sonic sludge of the Pacific Northwest’s rock and roll calling card.

No — it wasn’t as scary as it looks in text. If anything, Pigpen produced far more interesting recordings than Zony Mash, the project Horvitz pursued after Pigpen ran its creative course.

Jump cut, five years later, to Japan.

Whether by design or by coincidence, LOSALIOS has picked up where Horvitz left off.

The quartet is something of a supergroup. Nakamura Tatsuya was drummer of the hugely popular Blankey Jet City. Guitarist Kako Takashi plays with the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, while bass player TOKIE performed with Nakamura’s bandmate Asai Kenichi in AJICO.

Performing nothing but instrumentals, LOSALIOS superimposes fiery improvisation over grunge guitars.

This quartet isn’t merely a rock ‘n’ roll jam band — they’ve woven dissonant, disjointed improvisation into their sonic pallete.

The band’s second album, Colorado Shit Dog — no idea what a shit dog is and why it’s from Colorado in particular — traces a more direct lineage to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew than most jazz-inspired rock albums (or rock-inspired jazz albums).

It’s almost impossible to differentiate between TOKIE and Kako — they’re playing is so locked, it’s as if they’re thinking with one mind.

Saxophone player Takeda Shinji does a marvelous job providing a foreground voice to the mix, but he can blend in with the insanity of the group’s noise-making when need be.

Through it all, Nakamura holds everything together with a rock solid drumming. Even when he’s pounding a difficult rhythm, he doesn’t let his bandmates’ liberal noodling interfere with his timing.

That solidarity serves the group well on such tracks as “Coganemushi”, where effects pedals blur the band into a reverb-drenched mush, or “Snake and Steak”, where a tricky compound meter leaves no room for tonality.

Some tracks play it straight, such as the surf-inspired “Hit Man” or the dramatic “Blue Black”.

But for the most part, tracks such as “Palakeen” — in which the band accelerates to revved up jam — epitomize the nimbleness of LOSALIOS’ collective improvisatory skills.

Most of the musicians in the band may have cut their teeth in rock ‘n’ roll, but they make for one hell of a jazz ensemble. Colorado Shit Dog is a fine introduction to a band that doesn’t make “grunge jazz” sound so scary.