Jandek on DVD – “Brussels Saturday” (Review)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

0817-Brussels-Saturday-300x300

Brussels Saturday

Corwood Industries (0817)

Filmed live at Ancienne Belgique – Brussels Belgium 4/19/14

Latest release from ‘The King of The Outsiders’

Musical artist Jandek has just put out “Brussels Saturday”; a live concert DVD that represents his ninety-third official release (counting LP’s, Audio CD’s and DVD’s). Yes you heard me, ninety-third. Many of his releases are multi-disc sets; all of which contain original material not reprised on other releases. They are manufactured and released by Jandek’s company Corwood Industries based in Houston Texas.  The only address is a P.O. Box number that has remained the same from 1978 to the present day.

If you find yourself rubbing your brow muttering…Huh?…Wha?… Let me explain.

Jandek slithered into the consciousness of the Rock music press in 1978 with the release of “Ready for The House”; an LP containing music that couldn’t be adequately described or reviewed due to its primitive and abstract qualities. The album contained absolutely no information about the artist, the music, or the locale and date of the recording. On a typical Jandek release you got nothing but a grainy, black and white cover photo (with no graphics) and a back cover listing only the album and song titles. The music was delta blues from a distant, alternate galaxy. A brittle – seemingly out of tune – acoustic guitar was strummed haphazardly, supporting equally tuneless meandering vocals. I’ve previously described the production quality as sounding like a field recording from a segregation unit in some remote mental health facility in rural Pennsylvania.

Jandek would go on to pursue this identical template for the next nine (or so) albums. Jandek’s records could be bought through mail order only. Music Journalists were entranced by his unwillingness to grant interviews or divulge personal information. In a day before the internet, the true identity of Jandek was subject to wild speculation and urban legend. One particularly outlandish theory held that Jandek was the mentally challenged child of a loving and generous Texas oil baron who wished to indulge his progeny’s love for music. A theory since debunked.  A feature film documentary about the man “Jandek on Corwood” was released in 2003. It only succeeded in raising more questions than it answered.

Similar to his records, The Corwood Industries catalog was a stark, black and white affair that only listed titles and catalog numbers. No artwork, bio, or explanations of content were offered. It had all the charm of a police rap sheet.  However, the prices were reasonable and Corwood Industries even picked up the shipping tab. It’s only been in the last two years that Corwood Industries has stepped into the new century, adding an email address, buy-buttons and album art to its page.

Click to visit Corwood >>>>>> http://corwoodindustries.com/

The pace of Jandek’s evolution has been glacial but continuous. His second period in the 80’s and 90’s, saw collaborations with other (uncredited) musicians and experimentation with electric instrumentation and more refined audio quality. Jandek then went through a harrowing three album acapella period. 2004 marked his ‘modern period’ when he shocked the world by performing live for the first time. In 2013 he issued a nine CD set of quasi-classical piano nocturnes “The Song of Morgan”.  He has since granted a magazine interview and continues to put out concert DVD’s that empirically document the actual existence of the man we know as Jandek, but who never refers to himself as Jandek. He only acknowledges himself as “The Representative of Corwood Industries”. Our current view of Jandek is that of a well-spoken, black clad, urban troubadour of the pre-apocalypse.

So with all that, we now have “Brussels Saturday”. Jandek’s new release is an attractively staged and filmed DVD document of his concert in Brussels Belgium on April 19, 2014.

Lead track “In my Mind” opens with the stage framed in black, bathed in blue Indigo lighting and populated with companion and co-conspirator Sheila Smith on fender bass and brunette beauty Annelies Van Dinter on keyboards and vocals. The opener finds Van Dinter reading from a music stand which (I assume) contains lyrics penned by The Representative of Corwood industries. The man himself is on drums, punctuating the mood with mallet fills and cymbal splashes.  The music is meditative, light on dissonance and heavy on atmosphere. Van Dinter sings in a mopey, dusky voice that eschews arty pretention and immediately brings to mind “Nancy Sings” – the stunning album cut from Jandek’s “Chair Beside A Window” (1982). We’re reminded of the artistry and nuance imbedded in Jandek’s work when he is moved to outsource singing duties to a more conventional practitioner.  Clocking in at 9:07, “In My Mind” is a suitable opener that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

“Friday Morning” clocks in at an imposing 37:20 and finds the trio playing musical chairs with the instruments. Jandek mans the keys, Sheila is on drums and Van Dinter moves to bass. After some tentative noodling, Jandek settles into a slow walking bass and delicate right hand improv that could have been lifted straight off his monolithic 9 CD album “The Song of Morgan”. A few minutes in, Jandek introduces some softly uttered spoken word. The girls seem content to contribute only understated percussion and droning bass. The camera work is likewise understated and unfussy; and seems a two shot enterprise. As the piece progresses it is reminiscent of Jandek’s stream of consciousness marathon, “Athens Saturday” from a few years back. Van Dinter bass work is intuitive and inventive given the restraints of the piece. Annelies Van Dinter is a real find and one wonders if she’s a local artist contracted for one gig, or will occupy a recurring role in the Jandek saga.  The meditative mood continues with dissonant, abstract note clusters from Jandek at the keys, the harbinger of a musical storm soon to come.

Jandek lyrically returns the themes of the ocean and water quite often. He is constantly drifting, questioning, professing love and his need for a reciprocity of emotions. Sometimes his voice maintains a soft, keening monotone while at other times it’s a plaintive howl of uncertainty and frustration.

On “Phantom Touches” Jandek mines familiar territory. Sheila grabs the mic and The Representative grabs a Fender Stratocaster. What follows is a dissonant, brackish and discomforting guitar improvisation with Van Dinter revealing herself to be as expert and inventive on drums as she is on keys and bass. The absence of bass guitar is hardly noticeable.

On “Maybe You’ve Died” Smith’s spoken word rant is obviously directed at Jandek. She confronts him with his own mortality. After some preemptive dancing and writhing she admonishes her man for not returning calls, or responding immediately to her texts, causing her to exclaim, “you might have died!” and further causing her to wonder, “what if you died, would the morgue call me?”.  Jandek will turn seventy in October.

Closing piece, “The Blue Sky” is a gorgeous conclusion to the set. Smith carries the piece with some spooky and transcendent piano work that’s evocative of Ray Manzarek on Angel Dust; Jandek grabs the mic and a lyric sheet, his body twisting and hunched over in the rapturous, psychic anguish of a deep, life concluding love. Van Dinter contributes understated acoustic guitar. On “The Blue Sky”, Jandek is delivering high-octane emotive art, and seems transported to another place entirely.

So there we have it, Jandek’s latest sojourn into the outer limits of sight and sound. If Jandek is sound weaving the emperor’s latest line of fashion, it is a profound and inventive illusion that he has maintained for thirty-seven years. The records continue to issue forth, and concerts continue to sell out. We now know who Jandek is. But, two questions stubbornly remain unanswered. Why? And, the far more important and foreboding…How long?

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