Review
 
Rythms (AUS), 27 December 2005
 
LAUGHING CLOWNS - CRUEL BUT FAIR [album info]
3 CD Box Set, Hot Records
 

Bands like The Birthday Party and founding Saint Ed Kuepper's Laughing Clowns showed that in the late '70s and early '80s, Australian cities could be as fecund environments for musical experimentation as New York or Berlin, even if they lacked the means to support the genius they spawned. Following the presentation of the complete Saints recordings in the All Times Through Paradise box set last year, this new three-CD set documents the only slightly longer career of the Clowns, an outfit conceived around the fresh premise of what Kuepper describes as an "angular and spindly" sounds, where the guitar would "sit more subtly" amidst whinnying sax and blaring brass, with drumming legend Jeffrey Wegener's hyper-arbitrary percussion the only constant in a distinguished changing cast of instrumentation, which included the inimitable Louis Tillett's piano and harmonica. And of course Kuepper's canny and acerbic vocal lines skittering through it all. Dip into this remarkable collection at any point and it is plain to see why easy and inaccurate categorisations applied by the music press of the era such as "jazz-rock" and "jazz-punk" rankled so acutely with a band putting everything they had into creating a wholly new monster.

From the bold and bravely audience-confounding opening statement of Holy Joe to the splendidly warped perfection of Ghost Of An Ideal Wife to Law Of Nature's shuddering avant-garde abrasion, the Clowns show off a rich and strange permutating sonic equation which beggars commentary.

Eschewing the strict chronological order of the Saints package for his own capriciously methodical scheme of track placement, Kuepper here presents the Clowns' total oeuvre with a rounded closure – the kind he would have liked to have seen imposed on his earlier band – providing literate and enlightening reflections on each of the 48 pieces, which reveal both his life inspirations for lyrics and the diverse range of '50s and '60s greats such as John Coltrane and Sun Ra which were infusing his musical psyche during the band's career, such signposts only serving to emphasize, when taken with the music, the radical way in which the Clowns consistenly built upon the influences. And thus to drive home the point that horns, a complex rhythm section, and a sudden avalanche of spluttering sax do not an unadventurous and disposable jazz-rock band make.

The notes also valuable detail the band's many line-up changes and the chilly receptions they were met with at their early gigs.

Kuepper's minimal remastering was conducted to preserve the aura of the original analogue tapes, thus providing a comprehensive document for the longtime fan, while for the newcomer, like myself, who has merely been intrigued by back-in-the-day accounts, this set becomes the indispensable record of a musical phenomenon and a slice of history too important to be consigned to the margins.

Mark Stockdale

 
 
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