SoundGround Ronald Shannon Jackson

Edited: 10/25/13 1:13 AM
Posts: 8789
This guy. A lot of records, and (like anyone whose done a lot of records) a lot of inconsistency. Some of the best early stuff was recorded and mixed poorly. But he had a bit of purple patch where it all came together in the 80s. Particularly a record called Man Dance and one called Barbeque Dog. Two bassists on most of it (the guy playing on frets is Melvin Gibbs), and a very young Vernon Reid playing guitar and banjo.

Jackson's the drummer. He played in Ornette Coleman's Prime Time. Out of which grew a sub-genre that critics called "Harmolodics". A term Ornette made up, and called a "theory" of music. Near as I can tell it wasn't that, whatever it was, but just the "latest" version of free jazz. Trying to make harmony, and rhythm ("movement"), and melody all equal; and uber-democratic "everybody soloing at the same time". Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in the hands of Jackson and a streak of Blood Ulmer records (another Ornette alum), this stuff was mindblowing to my young mind. Still is.

Title track (no video) from RSJ's "Man Dance":

Edited: 2/24/12 11:22 AM
Posts: 8790
I find several things on youtube, but after brief check, most in crappy sound; there's a cool trio with RSJ and Gibbs and Vernon Reid, but.... that's later, and stripped down just wasn't as ecstatic with as this thing with all the horns and both basses.

There is some Power Tools, a trio with RSJ and Frisell and Gibbs, that's excellent, too. Mostly this is being posted though to emphasize the post-Ornette stuff that I liked a whole bunch (by request, again!). Now off to work, I'll look for more samples that hold up later.
2/25/12 12:22 AM
Posts: 8799
Here's another (again no video), from the next record "Barbeque Dog" -- tune is called "Yugo Boy". Another with some super cool Vernon Reid featured, but again the whole ensemble just takes it:

2/26/12 1:12 PM
Posts: 8813
a couple decades later, a reunion of just the trio: RSJ, Vernon Reid, and Melvin Gibbs:

Edited: 2/26/12 2:14 PM
Posts: 8814
After Reid left (I suppose the first time)... the Decoding Society soldiered on... again the mix is low, so turn it up -- but here's a case of that whole harmolodic "everyone soloing and accompanying" idea. At least you really get it with the drums, which is what RSJ played after all:

Edited: 2/27/12 10:34 AM
Posts: 8815
Not sure if I posted this on the (hijacked) Nels Cline thread when I was pushing Frisell. Maybe. Maybe it was another tune from this trio. Power Tools they called themselves, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Bill Frisell, Melvin Gibbs:

Sound isn't too bad, some digital crackle that's annoying but the instruments are clear -- but is WAY too quiet, again.
2/27/12 10:21 AM
Posts: 13688
hugomma - Just listened to "Yugo Boy". That made me LOL for some reason. It sounded like the soundtrack to a warped video game in the 80's, like "Mario does DMT".

That's a great description, haha. I really liked Encryption Bimhuis and the Powerhouse with Frissell numbers. What a powerhouse, incredible drummer.
2/27/12 10:38 AM
Posts: 8818
Not a gamer so I don't know what you guys are talking about. I love that freaking tune, though.

Speaking of powerhouse drumming, check out the opening of that "When Colors Play" tune. Dude is *KILLING*. When I saw Power Tools back in the late 80s, I was overwhelmed by RSJ. I think I was more there for Frisell (though not necessarily... it was a supergroup, after all). RSJ was such a force, a storm.
11/1/12 12:40 AM
Posts: 9156
VTFU for that addition. There are a bunch (err... at least a couple) of tunes from that Dallas show. I love this new incarnation of the Decoding Society.

Jackson's been putting up lots of videos it seems, over the past little while. "cymbata" is his youtube handle.
11/1/12 1:23 AM
Posts: 9157
You beat me to it.... that would have been the next video I posted. Discovered while listening to the one you pointed out first. RSJ is getting super active again, it seems, after some years of laying relatively low.
Edited: 11/1/12 2:13 AM
Posts: 9158
oh man... there are probably a bunch of guys. Jef Lee Johnson was "the new Vernon" for Shannon for a while. That's the main one that comes to mind. Sick player. Dave Fiuczynski played for the Decoding Society, too. And I think he's as good as any of 'em.

I'm not sure, but I think Masujaa played for him, too. (I have no idea what Masujaa's birth name is, but he's another really heavy player. I'll see if I can find the tune that served as an introduction for me... but that's another chapter. Not RSJ).

Prickett is a new one to me. But I'll bet he gets LOTS more people auditioning for the band now than he did when he found Vernon... he's not just "dad" now, he's "gramps" to a whole movement. Him and Blood Ulmer. Ornette is the real patriarch, as great-grampa in this picture, of course. Tacuma is less of a bandleader, but still an inspirational figure. Maybe Bern Nix (another guitarist). I can't think who else, but if I played other instruments, I bet I could.

Thanks for finding that -- that Prickett piece is great. I'm a big admirer of a certian few records Ayler did, too. (And Prickett, whom I just heard of today thanks to you, does a better tribute than the offical record Henry Kaiser did, with Keneally and a bunch of other ... um... "superstars")
11/1/12 9:18 AM
Posts: 9160
Here's one of the most beautiful (i.e., not me being weird in my definition, either). One thing I love about the earlier RSJ records is the occasional banjo played by Vernon Reid. Always loved his approach to banjo. But also the bass on this (two bassists in the band, so I can't sort who is who all the time)... This is called "Mystery at Dawn":

Edited: 3/24/13 11:56 PM
Posts: 9167
Here's a live clip of earlier Decoding Society. You get to see the very young virtuoso Vernon Reid.... for all you Living Colour fans... but he doesn't get solo space. The last solo is pretty great, passionate -- Henry Scott on trumpet. But the drums create the whole new and fresh and fertile earth for all these younger guys to roam. I wish the sound mix was a little better (because the drum tone in particular is so seductive when you can hear it properly)... but it's in no way bad. And no else is sounding like this.

"Zane's Fangs" live at the Montreux Jazz Festival (mislabeled "Zang Fangs"):

11/6/12 12:20 AM
Posts: 9168
And here's a rather twisted avant-"rockish" take on the blues; a trio of Ornette Coleman band alumni. James Blood Ulmer on guitar and voice; Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass (and looking super groovy/professorial!); and Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums, driving it all forward and holding it down. I think this was before Blood started tuning all of the guitar strings to an open "A"!

"Night Blues"

11/6/12 12:28 AM
Posts: 9169
By the 1990s, the decoding society had Jef Lee Johnson on guitar, Dom Richards on bass, Rob Redy on soprano sax, and a ringer... James Carter on tenor sax. This tune Shannon wrote trying to recreate the feeling of being in Seville for a Flamenco festival. His comments on youtube say:

"as luck, faith, or karma would have it I was in Seville on the night of the annual Gypsy Flamenco Festival of singing dancing and joy,guitars hand clapping foot? stomping and tongue wailing a unique experience that I tried to put to music.... oh the rhythm Shannon"

So here's "Night in Seville" from 1994:

11/7/12 9:27 PM
Posts: 9171
Sometimes people think I'm being weird in my definition of "beautiful" is all. I just meant "Mystery at Dawn" is pretty much a more consensus idea of what that is.

When I was living in Nashville, in grad school... I had a roommate who was a philosophy Ph.D candidate. Always checking out music, but always less "out" than I was, I guess. Once when he wasn't around for a while, I had on Mandance super loud. He came home unexpectedly and just looked confused.... a line from my dad: "What's that noise??"

But he didn't turn it down, and I just shouted over it... "that's not noise... that's BEAUTIFUL". And I meant it. To his credit he just froze and listned for about 2 minutes. Then nodded. "OK". And meant it. I think a lot of music just takes... taking the time out of the whirrying brain, and listening to what's actually going on.

Right now I'm listening to the first Decoding Society record. And again, the whole of the instrumentation, and most of all the tone on the drums, but all of it, the almost-unison horns, the burning electric guitar just under the surface... it's really beautiful. It just FEELS so hedonistic in the most surprising places.
11/8/12 3:20 AM
Posts: 9173
Just starting??? Some of the best stuff I've seen has come from Polish TV. I'm like... I searched and searched in record stores, in my youth, for this stuff... and they get it broadcast tv? Whoa.
Edited: 11/11/12 3:35 PM
Posts: 9179
I was watching that Sunday's Bells performance a couple nights ago... and now again. And I'm doubly bugged by the fact that it's only in my left speaker. Beggars/choosers problem, I guess, because that's really great. (And not "so serious!" as RSJ says in the intro). Fuze kills me. And it's bothering me doubly so now that the one RSJ record in my collection that I cannot find at all, is the one that has a lot of him (Raven Roc is that record). But as soon as he comes him with that muted string faux-koto sound (2:29 or so) I just know he's going to build into so mthing ripping. Really good at building anticipation. And Shannon sounds like he's doing his ancient Native American - to - space jazz mix... then the whole march rhythm, New Orleans celebration/funeral thing as soon as he sits at the kit... the guy just brings in so many different things and makes it all really organic. Such great writing. And the drumming is again... a storm front. A storm. And so subtle. Thanks for posting that, Hugo.

Now I have to find Raven Roc, so I can hear that band (at least I think it's that band) from both speakers!

Check the Ornette, "Body Meta"; and check RSJ's "What Spirit Say" too, when you get a chance. You know how to find them!

As far as his position among the great drummers... not being a drummer I'm afraid of pontificating. Obviously there are people who different things and I don't believe in a "best" or anything like that. But he's as good as anyone I've ever heard for sure. Hearing him live was like being carried out by a fast tide. Whoosh!

I've been listening to much of my collection over the last week or so.... there's a lot of very noisy music (a la Sun Ra or something) on some of those records. And there's a lot of my favorite music ever, too.
11/17/12 9:43 PM
Posts: 5670
Ali!You know it.RSJ can do no wrong.I own several Decoding Society and Last Exit lps/bootlegs.Some of my favorite music.I really enjoy his sound,Sonar drums tuned in the high register played with a bombastic and physical approach.A unique musician and very cool cat.Great thread,man.
11/19/12 9:43 PM
Posts: 9198
Thanks Sam -- yeah, he's spectacular. Really opened me up to whole realms of music I didn't know about, thirty years ago. Makes me feel old. Oh yeah, I kinda am.

Last Exit -- I don't know what to say about that stuff. Most of the official recordings sound like bad bootlegs, so that always got in the way. The one studio record that's well-recorded is very good, but it's also much lower intensity than the crappy-sounding live ones.... and I don't know abou the bootlegs. I sort of figured they'd mostly sound about as good as the live official things, and that wasn't good enough! But to hear Sharrock and Jackson together, especially, is a treat indeed.

So mixed feelings. On the other hand, I just this week listened to The Decoding Society's live album"Texas". Killingly good. Not a great recording, but not too bad either. And Masujaa and DeNigris on board on guitars... make me almost not miss Vernon Reid or Fuze.
11/20/12 2:34 AM
Posts: 5672
If you can sit through a Last Exit/Decoding Society bootleg,then that is the true stamp.

Coming at their music from a punk previous rock background,any RSJ/Last Exit is better than none,as it wasn't meant to be sentimental,or over produced.They played and it was captured live...luckilly...but,yes,not easily listened to.As you say,any RSJ and Sonny.They had just as much energy as any punk/metal band at that time.
11/20/12 2:41 AM
Posts: 5673
BTW,probably no suprise,but I saw/met James Ulmer Blood in Vancouver 10 years ago.Had a photo taken and probably 10 record covers for him to sign (some of which he refused cuz the German label still owed him money).Went outside to smoke,then hurled...came back in the club and got kicked out for being wasted.Never did see those covers again.Still have the vinyls...
Edited: 11/22/12 12:00 AM
Posts: 9211
Majic Sam - If you can sit through a Last Exit/Decoding Society bootleg,then that is the true stamp.

Coming at their music from a punk previous rock background,any RSJ/Last Exit is better than none,as it wasn't meant to be sentimental,or over produced.They played and it was captured live...luckilly...but,yes,not easily listened to.As you say,any RSJ and Sonny.They had just as much energy as any punk/metal band at that time.

Funny you talk about the Punk/Metal... I heard RSJ's Mandance. And a bit later I heard Blood's Black Rock. A friend of mine who was in a speed metal band made the comment, regarding the latter, "this stuff pins you to far wall even when played at quiet volumes". I loved that. I can't think of any punk or metal band that struck me as HALF as powerful as what those guys were doing at the time.

Speaking of Last Exit bootlegs... just today for the first time, I heard one recorded in Tampere, Finland, from 1986. A guy on another forum did some remastering (de-clicking and speed correction) from a vinyl bootleg. It sounds better than the official stuff. And the band is freaking RAGING. Thanks for reminding me to seek some of that out, Majic Sam!

Thing about bootlegs... those guys weren't really getting paid for the official releases. Old "blues man" story of record companies not sending royalties. And I feel super guilty about hearing boots, and those guys just scuffling.

I occasionally buy things directly from RSJ's website to offset all that. So what if it costs $30 for a recording of Power Tools with Cosey... I'm paying for all the music I got to hear that RSJ NEVER got a dime for. Makes me mad.
12/9/12 5:37 PM
Posts: 9284
Man... I wish that particular trio would get together more, tour, do records...
Get a couple of horns and have a new Decoding Society, even.

Thanks for posting, Hugo. Some of my favorite music has that super-intense and pretty at the same time flavor, and yeah, that's what Sharrock was all about, so a nice tribute moment.
2/9/13 12:28 AM
Posts: 9593
Shannon on drums: