The late 60s and then the 70s saw a ferment of experimentalism in fusion from both rock and jazz players, with generous elements of both sides slyly switching camps. Robert Fripp produced Keith Tippett & Centipede's Septober Energy in a gargantuan ensemble, The Trio put out Conflagration, Braxton was going nuts in abstract sax chaos, Sun Ra was blowing minds on a regular basis, Carla Bley issued Elevator Over the Hill, and Heiner Stadler released the too-soon-lost Brains on Fire, a collection of songs that even a lot of very hip collectors were never much aware of, then or over the succeeding decades. Thank God, or a decent approximation of Him, that Naxos is presenting it once again for a culture badly in need of music that has aged not at all, reminding us of what Mingus, Coltrane, Kirk, and all those righteously uber-hip progenitors were really fomenting while stretching boundaries past the horizon.
The line-up here is impressive, clocking in with 17 musicians all together, all of whom went on to make their names well known, some even with the indomitable ECM label: Lenny White, Barre Phillips, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Albert Mangelsdorff, Wolfgang Dauner, etc.—really quite daunting. To call Brains on Fire free-form would be a bit of a mistake, there's lots of structure, but it's constantly offset by wild bursting passages, morphing tempi, unexpected left turns, and spare wastelands. Originally, there was a Volume 1 and Volume 2 on vinyl, both rare and really hard to find in good shape, but those weird diamonds are cohered now and with three never before released tracks. I'm sorry to say that though Howard Mandel writes a very satisfyingly extensive essay in the 16-page liner, he doesn't give any history or insight into what has mystified a small circle of aficionados for the longest time: how did all this come about?
Really, though, who gives a damn? The music matters. Stadler, in fact, is himself something of a mystery. Barely mentioned in Wikipedia save for an extremely short entry in German, he seems to yet be with us, so I'm guessing neither Mandel nor anyone has been able to get ahold of him other than to secure permission to release this treasury. Again: doesn't matter. Just listen to the 24-1/2 minute Bea's Flat, a whirling kaleidoscope, and any concerns about wherewithal are mooted. Brains is dazzling, a cornucopia of mangled inventiveness and vaulting thought, and Heiner isn't even on several cuts, but even that is irrelevant as a mutant big band comes crashing through the front door, scaring the children but sparking up the misfits and spacecases to begin gamboling, saltating, and crying out in ecstasy.
For this one, put the cat out 'cause the poor lil beast will freak; make sure the offspring are safely stowed at the park for a couple hours with Auntie Grizelda; unplug the phone, toss the TV out the window; pour a glass of madeira, maybe a sidecar of bourbon, or better yet: moonshine; and nail all the furniture down because everything is going to start coming to life and prancing all over the place—maybe even fly into the sky—like a Dali canvas if ya don't. You're in for a cacophonic and blissful two hours+, and it will not do to have it interrupted by something so mundane as the real world. Bar the door, Katie, and let your hair down; by the time we're done, the best surgeons on the planet won't be able to get the delighted grins off our dazed bemused faces.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles