Talibam! with Sam Kulik + Alan Wilkinson at Cafe Oto, 21 March 2012

Matt Mottel

Kevin Shea

Talibam! is on the road to promote their new jazz-rock ‘opera’, Discover AtlantASS (reviewed here). I wondered how they might translate their mini-opus from comic book page to stage, but I had no expectations of a big-budget extravaganza, and they didn’t deliver one. The dynamic duo splashed out only on an additional band member in trombonist and electric bassist Sam Kulik, his costume, and a cushion. A piece of luggage also played a small but notable part in the night’s entertainment, but I suspect this wasn’t its primary function.

To recap, for the uninitiated, the synopsis of Discover AtlantASS has a young lad called Franklin snatched from a fishing trip by jazz-obsessed fish, and taken to a licentious underwater world where, with the help of his magic pillow, he saves the day by plugging an oil spill.

The AtlantASS brand of humour is schoolboy scatology and Zappa-esque lewdness. Talibam! do a great job of outlining the plot with little more than hammy dialogue and the occasional break for a recap, with Kulik doubling as MC, but I would rather have been spared a good deal of the rap.

Sam Kulik

Kulik, who is anyways strikingly long-haired and pointy-bearded, was dressed for his fishy part in white leggings and a flimsy green makeshift androgynous wrap, which made him look like a conspicuously weird dance student. Talibam! synth man Matt Mottel performed in vile orange surf shorts, matching safari shirt, and bright red shock wig; business as usual for him. Drummer Kevin Shea didn’t bother dressing up at all, except he donned a black fright wig at one point; I’m not sure why.

AtlantASS’s notable action sequences, for want of a better description, came during the show’s two sex scenes. Kulik found ingenious uses for his trombone when acting out an orgiastic episode with Mottel (sadly too frenzied to capture on camera). And then the moment came for Franklin’s loss of innocence.

In the comic book that accompanies the AtlantASS CD, James Clapham draws young Franklin’s ctenophore lover Cylindra as a diaphanous blue jellyfish-cum-(no pun intended)-condom. Onstage, Cylindra was represented by a piece of brown rolling luggage. This looked like a cost-cutting measure too far until ‘her’ main scene arrived. It’s actually not unusual for Shea to dry-hump something in the course of a gig: in his last visit to The Vortex, with anarcho-jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do The Killing, during the drum break in “A Night in Tunisia”, the impassive object of his attentions was one of the venue’s metal pillars (a variation Art Blakey never assayed). But the vigour with which he went at Cylindra was quite an eye opener.

God knows what rock-opera pioneers The Who would make of AtlantASS, but I do know it’s a crying shame that the director of Tommy, Ken Russell is no longer around to turn it into a movie. The mind boggles what he might have done with such material. What kept me on-side was the music, which is anarchically inspired, in true Talibam! style. Mottel and Shea were at their furious best, Mottel dropping funky synth bombs amid the drummer’s hyperactive scatterrhythms, and with Kulik on bass their music took a satisfyingly energised tumble into leftfield jazz-fusion.

The trip to AtlantASS took around 70 minutes. After a short breather, Alan Wilkinson joined Kulik and Talibam! for a second set purely devoted to music.

Alan Wilkinson and Kevin Shea

Saxophonist Alan Wilkinson regularly plays with Talibam! on their visits to London. His powerful, forthright blowing style, as severe as it is inventive, turns their wayward energies inward, and renders their potential energy truly explosive. (The partnership is captured on a vivid vinyl-only album, Dem Ol’ Apple Pie Melodies, on the Bo’Weavil Recordings label.)

Kulik seemed pretty comfortable at first, tempering some of the asceticism of Wilkinson’s sound with his own measured and expressive playing on trombone. But when he switched to bass, presumably to match his partners’ mounting aggression, he hunkered into a repetitively aggressive sequence of single-note hammer-ons, which only served to grind the music down to bone-headed torpor. Kulik eventually broke this pattern, and gradually found more eloquent things to say with the bass, but the usually ceaselessly inventive Mottel caught the bug, spending interminable durations hammering on repeat synth patterns as the set wore on.

These are quibbles, however. For the most part the four were all on the same page, taking Shea and Mottel’s fevered energy and channelling it into a free jazz conflagration: one part vintage Pharoah Sanders, one part Blurt. The set was a fiery, eruptive climax to a riotous night’s entertainment.

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