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Friday, April 26, 2024

Ava Mendoza & Dave Sewelson - Of It But Not Is It (Mahakala, 2024)

By Ferruccio Martinotti

The supreme Ava Mendoza is back on our turntables and, easy to predict, it’s sheer bliss again. Last year she released, as Mendoza Hoff Revels, the amazing Echolocation (in the 2023 top 10 of the blog’s reviewers, fyi) along with Devin Hoff, James Brandon Lewis and Ches Smith, this year we have in our hands the outcome of another collaboration, with Dave Sewelson as the partner in crime. 

Beside her own band Unnatural Ways and her solo activity, teaming up with other musicians seems definitely to be the ideal cup of tea of the Brooklyn-based guitarist, given that she lent her strings to the likes of Matana Roberts, William Parker, Fred Frith, John Zorn, Negativeland and Violent Femmes, just to name a few. 

A super short bio notes of Sewelson. Born in Oakland in 1952, he started playing trumpet, drums, electric and upright bass, before finally focusing on bari sax at 21; he then moved to New York around 1977 and played in 25 O’clock, Jemeel Moondoc’s Jus Grew Orchestra, Mofungo, Microscopic septet, William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra; along the decades he collaborated, among the others with John Zorn, Peter Kuhn, Alex Kline, Sonny Murray, Kidd Jordan, Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter. 

At an initial stage, the meeting of the two musicians was set as an improptu quick studio work around a couple of William Parker's lyrics but the chemistry soon clicked and something on a complete different level took shape, delivering a really outstanding free-blues record. We're on the most committed music blog of the galaxy, therefore it's almost pointless to say that when we talk blues we wipe out the idea of the fake black xerox music à la Clapton but we deal with the greasy, stinky, rotten to the core stuff, usually found in the stores of the likes of Beast of Bourbon, Jon Spencer, Cypress Grove as compadre of the legendary Jeffrey Lee Pierce during his ill-fated solo carrier and of Lydia Lunch on the underrated masterpiece A fistful of Desert Blues or (above all, ioho) the artists from the Fat Possum records roster such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and T-Model Ford. 

As soon as the music of the first song, Mangrove Sea, comes out of the speakers, the pace is immediately set: an ongoing, desperate effort of the sax to escape from the blues tracks firmly kept on the ground by the guitar is what we'll listen along the whole record. Sometimes Dave is totally free to let his sax scream in a Ayler-esque and dissonant mode (the title track, Scaribari or Don't Buy the Lie), otherwise his tobacco, dusty voice is devoted to swampy, sinister atmospheres reminding us the mythical Flesheaters (Dava's dune) or even drunken serenades (Bill), always magically backed-up by the never self indulgent guitar licks: different musicians but a perfectly smooth amalgam in the holy name of blues. 

This is a record made of mud and blood, don't miss it.

Listen and download from Bandcamp


amroz said...

Free blues - apt description :)