1/ Hard School (Last Exit) 19.05 2/ Brain Damage (Jackson) 6.20 3/ Taking a Beating (Last Exit) 2.50 4/ Last Call (Last Exit) 4.27 5/ Dark Heart (Last Exit) 6.35 Recorded on 16 track Tascam, Koln, West Germany, February 12, 1986 Mixed by Robert Musso at Quad Recording Produced by Last Exit Mastered by Howie Weinberg at MasterdiskPeter Brotzmann: tenor sax; Sonny Sharrock: guitar; Bill Laswell: 6 string bass; Ronald Shannon Jackson: drums, voice.
1990 - ITM/Enemy (Germany), CD ITM 1446 (CD) 2005 - Atavistic (USA), ALP252CD (CD)
Some fans will give you the conventional wisdom that Last Exit combined rock rhythms with the energy and intensity of freely improvised blowing into a wall of noise that changed improvised music forever. In fact, that's an oversimplification. In its personnel, Last Exit was a "supergroup" (ugh!) that combined Bill Laswell's rock/funk/dub aesthetic with Shannon Jackson's free jazz to produce a powerhouse rhythm section over which Sonny Sharrock and Peter Brötzmann ripped and roared. Although the music was totally improvised, Laswell and Jackson were the kind of rhythm section that had never been heard in improv.
In fact, Last Exit almost had a split personality, depending on whether or not Brötzmann was playing. For overwhelming evidence, listen to "Hard School" (the titles were well chosen; they eloquently convey the group ethos—hard school, indeed). Some ten minutes into the performance, the trio of Laswell, Jackson, and Sharrock hits a groove and sticks with it, effortlessly producing improv you can dance to. The re-entrance of Brötzmann shatters that groove as he blows with characteristic energy and abandon, seemingly oblivious to the others. The same thing happens again on "Last Call."
Whenever Brötzmann plays, the archetypal Last Exit emerges, purveyors of full-on high energy noise guaranteed to scare the children. But these passages alternate with trio passages that act as a form of respite and are more subdued and lyrical. Sometimes, Brötzmann's entrance can feel intrusive, even destructive, so overwhelming is his presence and so dominant his playing; he never attempts to adapt to the trio, he just blows the others away.
It is incredible to think that these recordings were made some twenty years ago; this music has a timeless quality and its influence has been immense in the decades since it was recorded, on groups like Napalm Death, Naked City, Aufgehoben No Process, and others.
Last Exit remains as in your face and impossible to ignore as ever.
John Eyles (courtesy of the All About Jazz website)
At some point in his solo career Jaco Pastorius took to referring to his music as “punk jazz,” even going so far as to pen a composition under that name. Several posthumous compilations of his work have also curiously adopted the phrase as title. Not to knock Jaco, but the notion of him being poster boy for a punk aesthetic in jazz has always struck me peculiar, even a bit absurd, especially given his virtuosic conceits and highly honed chops. A far more germane vessel for that mantle is Last Exit, the liquor-swilling, stage-steamrolling foursome who shared a Sex Pistols-worthy existence of expectations-obliterating insurgency and excess for eight years. The felicitous teaming of Peter Brötzmann, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson made for a momentous occurrence that’s still sustains after-ripples of admiration and consternation to this day.
Polished technique and prescriptive charts were affronts to the band philosophy. Energy, volume and crotch-of-the-pants improvisation trumped any sort of de rigueur template for song craft. Listening to Laswell stamp out industrial rhythmic slabs on the 6-string electric bass it’s evident that while Pastorius would school him summarily in the prowess department, the formers ferocious pile driver lines could just as easily clean Jaco’s clock and send him away shiner-eyed and reeling through funneled testosterone alone. Sharrock’s fire wire fretwork served as an inspired complement, spraying out in distortion-threaded arcs that rarely referenced anything resembling conventional chords. Jackson’s militaristic tattoos kept the tank trundling ahead at an earth-churning clip while Brötzmann shot salvo after salvo from the vehicle’s tenor-outfitted turret, his explosive rounds causing as much aural damage as the guitarist’s ground-based, shred-laced assaults.
Taped live in the German city of its title, the band’s debut is a vinyl-sized full frontal incursion pocked by moments of surprising restraint and space. “Hard School” sprawls out over the entire A-side, a surging improvisation that works off a succession of component team-ups and tight change-up rhythms. Early on, Brötzmann and Sharrock share a brief interlude only to have the intimacy shattered by the falling timber of Jackson’s sticks and the depth charge bombs of Laswell’s deep sea bass. Sharrock answers with a vaguely Eastern-structured shard, signaling a power trio segment sans Brötz that sounds like tautly-stretched steel cables snapping from moorings to wreak havoc on all in their path. The four players reconverge for an epic fulminating finish stoked by a loping heavy metal groove, Sharrock doling out white lightning distortion from the frets and Laswell locking on a mountain-moving bass line worthy of early Westbound Funkadelic.
Jackson’s “Brain Damage,” the only track on the album that approximates a song-based anatomy, staggers along as a slice of whiskey-headed back porch improv built initially on a stomping Mississippi Hill Country cadence. Brötzmann’s open-spigot saxophone sounds almost regal in comparison to the composer’s guttural Fat Possum-style glossolalia. Sharrock once again achieves the speed of an Ethernet connection, channeling a geyser of guitar data across the smoking surfaces of his strings at speeds almost too rapid to process. His solo builds swiftly to a closing blues coda pierced slivers of unexpectedly delicate melody. The album’s other tracks tick away in short order. “Taking a Beating” is all angry atonal colors and anarchic fisticuff aggression. Splinters of second line funk surface and submerge in the chicken-scratch picking, slap-palm plucking and slippery stereo drum syncopations of “Last Call” while “Dark Heart” allows Brötzmann and Sharrock one culminating chance to blow their respective gaskets before another Herculean groove congeals to take the whole conflagration out. All of Last Exit’s recordings are worth hearing, but their first undertaking remains the ordnance with the biggest, most memorable punch.
Derek Taylor (courtesy of the Bagatellen website)
For Fans Of: Peter Brötzmann, Sonny Sharrock, Naked City, Albert Ayler, The Flying Luttenbachers
So my last review (not counting the band submissions) was a band called Final Exit, so i'm going to be a smartass and review Last Exit. Don't worry though its all still very noisy and destructive, and no its not the British power electronics project either (Cheers last.fm). In case you aren't familiar already Last Exit is an experimental free jazz supergroup consisting of oddball jazz instrumentalists including saxophonist Peter Brötzmann (Machine Gun), the late drummer/vocalist Ronald Shannon Jackson (collabs with Cecil Taylor and Ornett Coleman), bass guitarist Bill Laswell (collabs with Herbie Hancock, Yoko Ono, Iggy Pop and heaps more) and the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock (collabs with Pharaoh Sanders before being his own artist and is most renowned for the Space Ghost Coast To Coast theme song).
Do you like musical notes, well constructed harmonies and a rigid time signature? Tough titties, because even locking up wild wolves in a music store would not be anywhere near as violent and bewildering as these madmen. Last Exit is a civil war of noisy jazz music titans to see who can fuck shit up the most. This is by no means an easy listen. There is nothing easy here, even trying to point out a particularly unique part here is an impossible task. All the musicians, even the odd bouts of vocals, are non-stop crashing into each other like a derby, only occasionally letting one person a chance to shine on its own. Its far from a wank however, even amongst this chaos it still has all the professional marksmanship of years and history of world class musicians that defied the common ground and travel on their own path in a truly honest and unique journey. It should be pointed out that they only ever did one studio album and the majority of their releases, including this one, are live albums and presumably improvised too.
Its a shame that Last Exit is often overshadowed by the equally eccentric Naked City, who formed a little later after Last Exit and both bands were active around the late 80's/early 90's but where Naked City tends to straight up assault towards as many genres and styles as possible in a hyperactive stupor, Last Exit is drawn more to destroying all the relics of conventional musicianship in a ferocious and rebellious fury that has yet to be matched.
Jerry Kahale (courtesy of the Fucked By Noise blog)