REVIEW: Screaming Headless Torsos at the Bussey Building

Screaming Headless Torsos at the Bussey Building
Photo credit: John L Walters

Screaming Headless Torsos
(CLF Art Café, Bussey Building, London. 2nd June 2016. Review and photos by John L. Walters.)

From the very first lick you can tell that Screaming Headless Torsos mean business. They start with the jazzy, fiendishly convoluted unison guitar-vocal lines of Word To Herb, driven along at a furious jazz-rock pace by bass, drums and percussion.

The Brecker Brothers, tongue in cheek, once named an album Heavy Metal Bebop: the Torsos take such a term as a serious challenge. In an intense two-hour set they pound out a feverish mix of everything from Prince/Sly derived funk to frantic, finger-busting fusion.

There are only two musicians in common with the band I raved about at the London Jazz Festival in 2004: percussionist Daniel Sadownick and leader-guitarist Dave ‘Fuze’ Fiuczynski, but this line-up has all the qualities of the earlier incarnation: musicality, energy, fun and showmanship.

The original band featured the talented Dean Bowman – a jazz singer who used his skills in the context of a hard-rocking fusion band. New-ish singer Freedom Bremner had the challenge of being himself while staying true to the sound established by the earlier version. Bremner can belt out the rockers, but he has a lighter, soulful touch, too, as demonstrated in an impromptu version of Prince’s Purple Rain during the good-humoured encore. He occasionally uses electronic effects to tease his vocals and in some songs adds an electronic chorale.

Dave ‘Fuze’ Fiuczynski
Photo Credit: John L Walters

Changing lead singers isn’t easy, as bands as different as The Temptations, Van Halen and AC/DC have found, but it can give both the bands and their original singer new leases of life – just look at Genesis and Phil Collins. Fiuczynski has jazz chops – he has played with George Russell and Mike Gibbs – but his band incorporates prog, soul, rock and funk – their material and attitude evokes George Duke-era Zappa, Cream, Discipline-era King Crimson, Hendrix (they do a superb version of Angel that recalls the intensity of Gil Evans’ version as well as Jimi’s original), Daft Punk, P-Funk and Prince. And probably a few more that I don’t even know about.

As with many bands who raid the big closet of music history, trying on styles and genres like vintage clothes, Screaming Headless Torsos’s albums have so far been enjoyable but somewhat eclectic and choppy. Live, however, these different elements – more than four decades of fusion – are scooped up and synthesized into a crazily coherent whole.

New material – such as Field of Light, With You and Sideways – stands up well alongside SHT classics such as Mind is a River, Smile in a Wave and the anthem-like No Survivors. Fuze is a terrific soloist on guitar, with an original harmonic approach that puts him in a different place to most jazz-rock guitarists: his explorations into pan-Asian microtonality and Messiaen inform the way he tears into a hard-rocking solo. There are moments when the gleeful angularity of his lines might remind you of John Scofield, but where Sco always has a jazz groove that underlies his playing, Fuze is closer to hard-edged funk and Go-Go. He is also a superb rhythm guitarist, a role not often celebrated in jazz – with the notable exception of Scofield’s own Uberjam band. (Disclosure: a young Fuze played rhythm guitar on Big Music, the Mike Gibbs album I produced in the late 1980s.)

Screaming Headless Torsos at the Bussey Building
Photo Credit: John L Walters

Playing percussion in a hard rocking band can be a nowhere gig, but Screaming Headless Torso’s long-time percussionist Daniel Sadownick – on congas, shakers, tambourine and other LA instruments – makes it an essential component. He is right at the heart of the band, with an unstoppable, hugely musical groove that locks in with drummer James ‘Biscuit’ Rouse and guest bassist Reggie Washington. Set high in the mix, you can always hear Sadownick, but he never gets in the way. His percussion parts help make Screaming Headless Torsos an unforgettable band. Up on the intimate stage of Peckham’s CLF café (on a night so badly publicised it was effectively a ‘secret gig’), they never made a wrong move. In their easy confidence and powerhouse sound the Torsos seemed ready to step onto the biggest stage of your favourite festival – rock, jazz or whatever – and tear it up.

LINK: Interview by Ant Law with Dave Fiuczynski
John L Walters’ Guardian review of Screaming Headless Torsos at the 2004 London Jazz Festival

Categories: miscellaneous

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