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Pretend It's The End Of The World by Bryan and the Haggards

Prior to the 21st Century, Merle Haggard's name did not come up all too often when discussing modern jazz - or jazz of any kind, for that matter. Along with everything else, this seems to have changed. Pretend It's The End Of The World is the product of saxophonist Bryan Murray's quest to bring the name 'Merle Haggard' to the lips of Brooks-Brothers-wearing be-boppers, finger-snapping hipsters, and poetry-reciting beatniks the world over. The tongue-in-cheekiness of the whole concept is fleshed out most thoroughly in the CD's hilarious liner notes. Penned by one Leonardo Featherweight (bassist Moppa Elliott's nom de plume), they trace Haggard's unlikely-yet-somehow-believable encounters with Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley, Charlie Haden and Don Cherry - Haggard was in between incarcerations, and Bley et al. had just been fired from the Hillcrest Club - in the blasted-yet-wide-open musical landscape that was Los Angeles during the late 1950s.

Appearances and liner notes aside, the music on “Pretend It's The End of the World” is all business, inevitable references to Ace Cannon and Boots Randolph notwithstanding. Murray and his band – who are also known as Jon Lundbom's Big Five Chord by day – approach Haggard's tunes with a ton of grit, skill, inspiration, and pure honest love. In fact, the lack of easy or obvious musical pastiche and tomfoolery (or, alternately, slavish devotion) is precisely why this CD is so darned good. As you'd expect, a sort of Frisellish 'aw shucks' down-home feeling is evident on several tunes – 'Swinging Doors,' 'Miss the Mississippi and You,' 'Lonesome Fugitive,' and 'All of Me Belongs To You.' But each one of these tracks goes off in unexpected improvisational directions – much like the creations of the band's label mates Mostly Other People Do The Killing. 'All of Me...,' for example, is taken more-or-less straight with lovely saxophone harmonies and stoked by Bob Willis-like yelps, but climaxes in a completely over-the-top, neck-slapping Slam Stewart-style bass / voice solo by Elliott. 'Miss the Mississippi...' stays in ballad mode throughout, inevitably providing a platform for ecstatically wailing, free-wheeling solos by the leader and alto man Jon Irabagon.

My favorite parts of this great CD, however, crop up where the band approaches the music from a different direction. 'Silver Wings' stomps along anthemically with Lundbom's proto-metallic chords and Danny Fischer's Bonham-esque drums way out front. This is the first track on the CD and a good choice for it because Lundbom's explosive solo will get you hooked right away. Inspired, perhaps, by the CD's liner notes, 'Working Man Blues' moves seamlessly from shit-kicking 2-beat country to hellaciously rapid Ornette-styled free bop, and back. Fischer's drumming here is amazing, and Murray, Irabagon, and the irrepressible Lundbom all turn in some truly remarkable improvisations on this one. 'Trouble in Mind' plays out like Ayler's band interpreting one of Ornette's dirges, yet the simple melody (one of the 2 here not penned by Haggard himself) flutters like a banner out in front of the hue and cry. Beautiful and inspired stuff, indeed!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bryan and the Haggards
  • CD Title: Pretend It's The End Of The World
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Hot Cup Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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