The Return Of Maximal Weird Or Retro Finds A Gem Under A Pet Rock
The Prime Time Community Orchestra Presents Songs That Will Never Win A Grammy
"In the future, there will be one music." - Duke Ellington
"Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny." - Frank Zappa
Upon listening to the music of the Prime Time Sublime Community Orchestra, you realize that the future is here, even if the music industry and the attendant consumer culture it caters to don't realize it. If you're reading this article, you are ready for the future now. Once you hear this music, whether totally straight or in a way-out altered state, you'll realize that jazz can also smell pungent and fertile, satisfying and fresh. Zappa was right and Ellington was right, but neither could have predicted that their modern acolytes are a group of musicians living in the wilds of New Jersey.
From the opening notes of the festival of angular melodies, "Curb Your God," to the ending tune, the aptly titled existential encore, "It Will Be Over Before You Know It," the listener is taken on an odyssey whose path I scarcely remember having ever existed since, like most Americans, our minds and memories are awash with media fed crap.
For insight, I went to their web site and found that, for once, there was truth in advertising: "The music of The Prime Time Sublime Community Orchestra (pTsCO), one of the oddest, most intriguing groups of performers to arrive on the music scene in years, cannot be labeled or categorized according to any of the established styles manufactured by the music industry. Combining skilled professional musicians, enthusiastic amateurs, and a bank of computers, pTsCO brings an entirely new sensibility to the often pretentious and self-absorbed world of modern music, and the limits of music style are exploded to the point of no return."
Ye gad, could these folks actually know what they're talking about and - gasp! - playing? I contacted the group's leader because I had to get some answers fast, since this music had me sweating like Hunter S. Thompson on speed in the Nevada desert.
Paul, how old are you? If you're under 40 I will bug out, because your references are not of this era.
Paul Minotto "44.75"
Not surprising. The "young rebel with something to say, man," frankly, doesn't exist so much anymore. Most young folks these days think that fashion = revolution. Thinking outside the box - as opposed to picking a box with prefab style/music/look/attitude as seen in magazines or MTV - is hard for kids nowadays, even if they're willing. This is the society of the spectacle and rebellion is fashion's life blood, sucked like a vampire as soon as it shows up. So, for something fresh and new, never trust anyone under forty. The leader and guiding light of this group, Paul Minotto, is from a time when music, especially rock, was supposed to be fresh and new, challenging the boundaries of what was known and accepted.
What were the first couple of records that you remember hearing?
Paul Minotto "The first record I owned was by the Ohio Express, which had the hit songs "1-2-3 Red Light" and "Chewy Chewy" and I played them over and over and over. I also owned a record called Bubble Gum Music Is The Naked Truth. It was a collection of the late '60s Bubble Gum pop groups and had a bunch of naked babies on the cover, which I covered up with professional baseball team stickers. In addition to the Ohio Express, it had the 1919 Fruitgum company, The Lemon Pipers, and a bunch of other one-hit wonders I can't remember the names of. My parents were and are not musical, though my father did enjoy listening to different kinds of music: jazz, classical, easy listening."
Ah, so, his musical mind had an early predisposition to the tunefully absurd, the trippy, the surreal and silly. A path from bubblegum pop to the outer limits. Who knew?
How did you come to play music? Were you a music nerd? A band camp boy?
Paul Minotto "In the early '70s I saw this TV advertisement for a three-record compilation called Superstars of The '70s. On it was "Foxy Lady" and "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix. When I heard the 5-second sound bite for "Foxy Lady," some chemical change occurred in my head and I had to hear more. I went to the local K-mart and found the 45 with both songs on it. After buying all the Hendrix records I could, I wanted to play the guitar. In high school, I did play in the marching band. I was hoping that by (becoming) Drum Major I would get more chicks, like the star quarterback and other jocks at school, but that didn't happen."
Like so many musical trail blazers, free improvisors, jazz heads, and weird rockers, the quest for teenage sex and discovering intense music, tickled a young man's fancy and got him into music. From a foxy lady through a purple haze.
When you started playing less than easy listening music, what was the reaction of your friends and family?
Paul Minotto "No one in my family really listened. They still don't. They don't understand non mainstream music and don't want to, and that includes my own. They just tolerate me. But I've stopped being bothered by their ignorance since I understand they are no different from most Americans in that regard."
Most Americans, weaned on aggressive anti-intellectualism and L.C.D. (lowest common denominator) tastes are not even trying to hear or understand music like the prime Time sublime Community Orchestra creates. But you can and you should. The record opens with "Curb Your God." The title says it all, especially with robot vocals warning about the dangers of gods on the loose, and "god-poo all over your head." A timely message, to be sure. The vocals - enhanced, robotic, sampled - sing a tune that to some may sound atonal or off key, but has beauty and logical form, embroidered by lush orchestration.
The next song, "I Want You," uses the same elements. A twisted love song, and one that will never get a Grammy, it starts with various bits of dialog, sounds, ads, space sounds, a scenario of madness and finally the sound of a car crash and an operator saying, in effect, "your girlfriend has left, and you can't find her." The rest of a song features a bizarrely processed voice singing: "The dandruff in your hair, the wrinkles in your dress, the holes in your
underwear / I want you, I really, really do . . . The absence of your teeth,
the fatness of your ass, the smell of your dirty feet / I want you, yes I
While freakishly absurd, these lyrics are closer to love's reality than anything on the radio in the last 15 years. Not everyone who is loved is a babe or loved for logical reasons. The music goes in and out of 12-tone, neoclassical textures, and Zappa meets Bonzo Dog Band music hall fare. Then a loping sax solo comes in over a space jam of sparse sounds. Weird, yet smooth and accessible. And above all, fiery and exciting, with a chorus you can sing along with. It could be a hit.
The social commentary in this record is something of a surprise, given that music this artfully conceived is usually lyrically more obscure. "Betty Poptarts" uses processed snippets from recordings of evangelists, commercials, the Bushies, and others to comment on people using politics, consumerism, twisted religion, or, as illustrated in a brilliant piece of dialog between a demanding woman and her browbeaten spouse, a romantic power struggle to fill the void and give life meaning.
What are the Orchestra's influences?
Paul Minotto Everything, too numerous to mention.
Not content with this answer to my centerpiece power question, I consulted my recently downloaded CIA Interrogation Manual. I decided to barrage the subject with a series of verbal jabs and feints to get to the truth of the ideas that inform this most subversive of bands.
Respond to the following names: 1) Composer Edgar Varese
Paul Minotto One of the few people who truly was a genius.
2) Composer Igor Stravinsky
Paul Minotto So much of his brilliant music is not heard.
3) The Mothers of Invention
Paul Minotto Yes, but I prefer The Fathers of Simulation
4) British music satirists The Bonzo Dog Band?
Paul Minotto Who? Do they use real dogs?
5) Evangelist, and Jerry Lee Lewis' cousin, Jimmy Swaggart?
Paul Minotto Isn't he the new lead singer for Van Halen?
6) White Noise (the band)?
Paul Minotto Never heard of them. I am fond of White Noise (the noise), though.
7) The Fugs.
Paul Minotto I've heard of them.
8) Italian film music composer Nina Rota.
Paul Minotto Anybody that had anything to do with Fellini was/is blessed.
9) Film composer par excellance Ennio Morricone?
While acknowledging some of what this writer hears as influences on, or predecessors to, the pTsCO, his responses caused some surprise. Like the lack of knowledge about White Noise, a seminal psychedelic band which pioneered electronically altered vocals in 1968 and the Bonzo Dog Band. But great minds think alike. And, if you use the similar perspectives, tools, and draw from similar wells, the results can be similar. But make no mistake, this group has a totally unique sound as rich and original as any of the above composers and musicians.
How did you form this group? What are the backgrounds of the individual musicians? Is there a core that you work with or is it a constantly revolving lineup?
Paul Minotto The pTsCO came out of an ensemble of musicians I was working with in NYC, called The Bastard Children of Bozo, about six years ago. The personnel constantly changes and come from a variety of musical backgrounds, but most are classical and jazz oriented.
These backgrounds and source materials are shown best in the studio/live epic "Just Do Me Tonight." This mini musical is based on the scenario of a lonely man at a bar, with few friends, and loveless, who scores with a busty blonde from Brooklyn. It starts with a long, slow build of textures and moody, asymmetrical, melody fragments, that transforms as though in a dream, to lizard lounge fantasy of jazz, followed by languorous, dream-frags of free jazz and texture-based music and surreal images, like a drunk on acid. It ends with an insane sexual fantasy romp.
The amalgam of interesting music on this Songs That Will Never Win A Grammy is almost too much to adequately summerize or describe. The lush variety of sounds and textures is the music equivalent of one of those Indian Bollywood musicals one sees in certain Indian restaurants or on international TV channels, mixed with Warner Bros. cartoons, and Sun Ra. Well . . . maybe not. I don't know. I just know that this record takes you on a journey and, at just under an hour, like a good movie, is over before you know it.
And with regard to the title of the record: considering that a group called Todo won with a song about pot head actress Rosanna Arquette, and The Soggy Bottom Boys won for the "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, the primeTime sublime Community Orchestra should never say never.
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