1/ Prayer (Last Exit) 4.37 2/ Iron Path (Last Exit) 3.28 3/ The Black Bat (for Aki Ikuta) (Last Exit) 4.33 4/ Marked For Death (Last Exit) 2.19 5/ The Fire Drum (Last Exit) 4.18 6/ Detonator (Last Exit) 3.47 7/ Sand Dancer (Last Exit) 1.56 8/ Cut and Run (Last Exit) 2.30 9/ Eye For An Eye (Last Exit) 4.54 10/ Devil's Rain (Last Exit) 4.12 Recorded and mixed at B.C. Studio, Brooklyn, New York Engineered by Martin Bisi Produced by Last Exit/Bill Laswell Mastered by Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk Remastered in 2015 by Michel Fosenkemper at Turtletone Studio, NYC Business: Roger Trilling Administration: Michael Knuth 2015 coordination: Garret Morris Artwork & Disign for the ESP Disk version: Yoko Yamabe @ RandesignSonny Sharrock: guitar; Peter Brotzmann: bass saxophone; Bill Laswell: basses; Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums.
1988 - Venture/Virgin (UK), VE 38 (Vinyl) 1988 - Virgin Records America, Inc. (USA), 1-91015 (Vinyl) 1988 - Venture/Virgin Records America, Inc. (USA), 7 91015-2/CDVE 38 (CD) 2015 - ESP Disk (USA), ESP4075 (Ltd. Ed. Vinyl) 2015 - ESP Disk (USA), ESP4075 (CD)
John Dugan (courtesy of the All Music Guide via the Get Music website)
League-of-his-own guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Subterranean saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Atmospheric bassist Bill Laswell. Former Albert Ayler drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. Alone, each is a power tower of musical ideation. Together, they blind the sun. In 1988, these free-jazz atoms bonded to unleash their only studio molecule. Now remastered for the 21st century, it bleeds redder than ever.
Like Everyman Band before them or Krakatau after, Last Exit pummels through walls of expectation as if they were made of feathers. From these they fashion a giant pair of wings across 10 spines of reality. As Steve Lake so reverently describes in his liner notes: “There’s no false modesty in Last Exit, no false anything. The group is important precisely because its rush of sound is a heartfelt force. It sweeps away all the fakery that proliferates on both sides of the highbrow/lowbrow cultural divide.” None of that flavor has dulled these last three decades, and if anything has grown more piquant with age.
The most obvious politic at play on the scale of Iron Path is its balancing of opposites. “Prayer” feels like anything but as a growling bass eats into the foreground, one pathos-ridden chew at a time. But as the terminal illness of its build reaches a plateau, bells of immolation toll for those with water. Guitar and drums power through resistance like berserker prospectors panning for untranslated scriptures. And these they find in the proffered wisdom of Brötzmann’s horn, which by virtue of prophecy spews all of its treasures for the taking. So does “Marked For Death” reveal its hidden meanings with patience. Brötzmann’s soloing exemplifies the restraint required to unleash such morbid finality. In “Eye For An Eye,” too, Laswell blows smoke through gritted teeth: a mountain pushed through a chain-link fence, to the call of an interspace chant.
Some tracks are purposefully grounded in the everyday. “The Black Bat,” for instance, bears dedication to Japanese producer Aki Ikuta, who tragically died at the age of 33 as the result of a car accident the year this album was recorded. His restless spirit echoes throughout this piece, in which colors swirl into mournful timbre. Other passages are more obscure and require further peeling of the ears to appreciate. The title track, with its eastern infusions, whispers of simulacra slashed across time, while “Devil’s Rain” finds Sharrock rocking the cinematic edge as Brötzmann lobs the heart of a volcano into the exosphere.
“The Fire Drum” is one of two blatantly descriptive turns, boasting comet streaks of brilliance from the guitarist and reedman. “Sand Dancer,” on the other hand, is Laswell’s electric phoenix all the way. And if these seem too grounded in their spaces, one needn’t worry, as both “Detonator” and “Cut And Run” hybridize aggressive haunts with tidal preaching, until only one piece of advice remains: Structural failures are the birth of monumental impulse.
Tyran Grillo (courtesy of the ECM Reviews website)
Iron Path is Last Exit’s only studio album and not only is it very different from their other (live) masterpieces like their debut Last Exit (Enemy, 1986) or Köln (ITM, 1990) but it is also completely different from almost all the other music at that time, which is why the listeners were confused. For rock aficionados there was too much free improv in it, for free jazz lovers there was too much prog rock. And even more than 25 years after the first release Iron Path is a mind-blowing, but strange album.
Last Exit has often been called a free jazz super group (with Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Peter Brötzmann on saxophones, Bill Laswell on bass and Ronald Shannon Jackson, on drums), yet this is not really correct. As a live act the band created a weird style mix of Sharrock’s harsh slide guitar rides, Laswell’s driving rock pulse, Jackson’s jungle grooves and Brötzmann just being the free jazz colossus we all love, which makes the music hard to categorize. If you had to pigeonhole it you might rather call it free rock. The sheer sonic brutality of their live shows only lurks below the surface on Iron Path, the slide guitar rides have been replaced by crude rock sounds á la King Crimson and Laswell’s bass is much more into industrial music and space funk/dub (listen to “The Fire Drum,” e.g.). Just Brötzmann seems to be defiant and unwilling to change, but his contributions are less prominent than on the live albums. Iron Path rather focuses on compositions, on real pieces, on dense and subtle preconceived textures. The chance to work with overdubs (as in “Sandpaper” with its multiple guitar tracks) offered new fields of tonal possibilities for the band. On the one hand this led to some weaker results like the cold reverb on the drums, which sound as if they were recorded in another room. On the other hand the band knocks out absolute highlights like “Prayer”, the first track, which presents a majestic, vertiginous, crystal clear Sharrock riff, while Jackson and Laswell drive Brötzmann in front of them, or “Eye for an Eye”, in which Brötzmann’s bass saxophone sets the tone for a satanic service – with the congregation consisting of die hard disciples like Sunn O))), Earth, Otomo Yoshihide and John Zorn.
Last Exit have been the blueprint for bands like The Thing, for all the music working at the interface of jazz and experimental rock, for all those who try to bring together Big Black, Motörhead and Albert Ayler. In his book “Stairway to Hell – The Best 500 Heavy Metal Albums” Chuck Eddy ranked it #268 saying that “Sonny's making wild electronic noise as if he's vacuuming up fur left over from the last Ice Age. The album ends with the drummer repeatedly booting you in the teeth with steel-tipped construction-worker shoes. This is “jazz”, by the way”. No matter what you might call it, but it’s still worth checking it out.
Martin Schray (courtesy of the The Free Jazz COllective website)