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William Carlos Williams: White Women

Stylistic shifts tend to bring out the conservative in even the most staunch counterculture poseur. Faced with the hip-hop/electronic dance gauntlet, guitar-based rockers have drifted back to three-chord singalongs, or jump-bluesy faux-swing. Others, however have found a pretty cool nesting place in the dead zone between rock and avant-jazz. Not as lucrative to be sure (it’s hard to conceive of anyone wanting to sound like Matchbox 20 for any reason other than money) but pretty cool. Led by sax player Rob Mallard and anchored by drummer Stewart Voegtlin, Atlanta’s free-improv collective William Carlos Williams combine those two genres-and anything else that happens to wander into their orbit-the way two cars might “combine” at a demolition derby. Nineteen ninety-seven’s White Women (Shoestring, SHO 4551-2, 72:38) and the more recent Collection Plate (Shoestring, SHO 0003-2, 54:59) from 1997 and ’98, respectively, show a band in dire need of some Ritalin, fond of jagged motifs, Prime Time-influenced collective improv, and post-punk sonic Luddite-isms. Rob Parham and Wes Daniel’s Ulmer-ish guitar soundblasts and Voegtlin’s rhythmic whirlpools are the closest things here to an anchor here, leaving Mallard and bassist Andrew Burnes to cook up all sorts of stylistic mischief.There’s the noir-ish “The Shame of Man” off White Women, which hints at Zorn’s “The Big Gundown.” Or a raucous version of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s: “Zero,” off Collection Plate. These discs do nothing if not keep you off balance, but then again when a band stated aim is to make you feel good, rather than happy (a distinction that practically cries out for explanation), a little healthy disorientation is to be expected. Not to mention good for the soul.

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