Cow Bop: Too Hip For the Room

2011: Bruce Forman asked me to write the liner notes for the new Cow Bop album. I don’t want the usual jazz liner notes, he said. Just write like your usual crazy self. Just start riffing. So I riffed a take. I like this, he said, got another? I riffed another, and another. Yeah, he said, I like these. Anymore? So I dashed off another. That it? I gave him one more. Five takes. That enough? Yeah, this is great. I’ll use one for the CD, he said, and another for the website, and he cut me a check. Cool. Can’t remember which of the five he used, though. But if only all liner note gigs were like this.

Cow Bop Take 1

Too Hick For the Room my big city ass. Sounds just right by me. This town, hell this world, needs a lot more Bob Wills. Western Swing is air you can breathe, smoky and boozy and dudes out in the parking lot fighting. Inside the honky tonk everyone’s grooving and swinging, hell there’d be dancing with the ladies if all them uppity jazz swells and slick hipsters would or could take a step or two. Man, can these cats play. Cow Bop ain’t no country radio band (not yet anyway), ain’t no jazz band either, but mama they sure swing, and yup that’s some pure Charlie Parker you’re hearing there in that mind blowing guitar solo. Bruce Forman that cat is, a barbed wiry, smirking smartass in a Stetson. The fiddler trading licks with him is Phil Salazar, and the hottie singing sweetly in the middle is Pinto Pam. Hands off, fellas, she sizzles. A dude I knew heard this album just once, jumped into his car and headed straight up the Grapevine where the mule deer and antelope play. Bakersfield is up that away, he said, next best thing to Amarillo. They got pickup trucks there, and cows and oil fields and chicken fried steak, and they got the Silver Palace and Merle and honky tonking Saturday nights. They got Cow Bop? No, he said, but they should. Best western swing in the land.

Cow Bop Take 2

Never expected to see something like CowBop in a jazz club. Saw ‘em take the stage in cowboy hats, pronghorns glued to the bass drum, singer in a long cowgirl dress. The regulars in the jazz joint stared over their cocktails, not getting any of this. The music was lightning fast, kinda swingy but awfully down home too. And man could those cats play. Solos zipped back and forth from fiddle to guitar and back again. Damn if that smartass guitar player wasn’t quoting Charlie Yardbird Parker. And ol’ crooked horn Dizzy too. And a lot of Bob Wills. The pretty girl sang about Texas, and dancing, and drinking, and men doing ladies wrong. By set’s end I was hooked, line and sinker. Y’all got any records? They said they had a couple. We got a new one we’re working on too. Yeah? Any good? Goddamn right it’s good. It’s gonna make us stars. And they packed up their gear and tossed it in the back of an old red Chevy pick up and took off in a cloud of dust. Well, that new one is this one here, Too Hick For the Room. Hot damn. What they call great driving music. That long stretch of highway between Tulsa and Bakersfield went by in a flash. Cow Bop.

CowBop Take 3 Continue reading

Bruce Forman

(March 30, 2012)

Cow Bop at the Cafe 322 this past Wednesday were absolutely terrific. The fiddle player was outta town so they had a kid on tenor named David Wise fill in. He was perfect. I’d seen him do a quick sit in with them once before at the Cantina and loved his sound….very very old school, a lot of Prez, etc. He can play the newer stuff too, but also loves the oldtimers. He’s from Richmond VA I seem to remember and is laid back, a rather perfect fit for this town. He knew the Cow Bop form, too….used to sit in with a local band back him that was much along the same lines…a jazzified Texas Swing. Bob Wills and Asleep at the Wheel have left a whole tradition out there that the college kids and certainly not the boppers, post boppers and out cats are really aware of. Well Bruce Forman–from Texas–can play circles around a lot of jazz pickers in town and his bones are made of Texas country and roots…he’s all about bebop and country, deep down. He plays it like he was born playing it. He was hurling the bop lines at the kid on sax who took them easily….I don’t know nothing about playing the saxophone but watching a guy run through Bird on that bigger horn always seemed impressive. And of course the kid knew the whole Bob Wills thing, was laconic as hell and had the most beat up old wide brim this side of the Army of Northern Virginia It was a very loose night, Alex King and Jake Reed getting all smartassed on bass and drums, doing funny little bass player and drummer shit that was a ball to watch. Forman just seemed to encourage it. He ought to let them do Big Wind From Winnetka. That’ll show ’em. Pammy was unflappable, though the band does their best to flap her. She backs out when the instrumental bits get crazy intense, comes in just right when the vocal is called for and all eyes are on her when she’s singing. Where the hell does she score them big old cowgirl skirts, btw? Do they even make those anymore? They are beautiful things, from back in the days when the dudes were decked out up there in the Nudie suits and the house lights would set  the spangles glittering  and the lady singer would wear a big pleated cowgirl skirt and colorful cowgal boots and a little widebrimmed hat with the brim curled up just a bit. The only place you can see that in town since the Palomino closed is on a Cow Bop stage. When’s Bruce gonna get himself some spangled Nudie Cohn western wear to go with that big ol’ Texas chapeau?

Bruce Forman’s playing…wow. He was taking long intros and even extended breaks sometimes and getting into these intense, light figured things…the players would sit still or maybe sizzle the high hat a bit and Forman would be experimenting…at one point he strained his left hand into some crazy chords and ran it up the neck in intervals…you could see the concern in his eyes wondering if the idea would pan out or crash. He turned to the players and said I can;t believe that worked as the band lit in. They just smiled, used to it.

Bruce Forman has a new album called Formanism that like a fool I didn’t bring into work with me today to listen to right now as I’m talking about it. It’s him and Jake Reed and Gabe Noel on the bass. They don’t do anything the right way. I mean you listen to a hundred jazz guitar trio projects and this doesn’t follow the rules. He busts them wide open. Now it’s a guitar record and unless you’re a guitarist, a really good guitarist, or a really good jazz musician, most of it will fly right over your head. It sure does mine, whoosh, a whole universe of concepts I can’t hope to dig. But not all of it…it’s different enough so that even a neophyte like me notices. Like the structure all’s different….that comfortable head/solo/solo/solo/head thing ain’t there. There’s some chamber music stretches, but chamber music with a big old kick drum propelling it along in places. That’s wrong. And there’s some almost furious bebop things that might have tripped up the cats at Minton’s since the usual pattern ain’t there, not quite. I dunno. I did the liner notes for it, and what a bitch that was. The music was deeper than I could see but still I got glimpses of something happening, something heavy. The coolness. The newness. So I went through I dunno how many drafts. I tried being a smartass. I tried talking about women. I tried sounding like a real live jazz critic. Nothing worked. I sent him a couple thngs and he cobbled something together. But it was frustrating. But I only bring this up because I’ve listened to this album a couple times since then. And I dunno if you’ve ever done liner notes but I know that by the time I’m done with them I never want to hear that fucking record again. You listen to something over and over and over again to get it down in words. Get sick to death of it. It winds up in the stacks somewhere down near the bottom, between a couple cds by jazz singers that I’ve never done more than look at the cleavage of.  They came by the dozens, those CDs. Everyday. Standards and some ill-advised pop cover or two. It was depressing. But I am digressing here. I just mean that a lot of awesome albums I’ve done liner notes for are now stuck in the stacks that I never get to. So why am I still listening to Formanism? Because I keep hearing things there I didn’t pick up before? Because listening to a great, great jazz guitarist is like learning a new language that has nothing to do with English at all?  Some alien tongue full of inexplicable ergative and oblique and weird temporal cases?  For me it is. So I listen again to figure out more. Listen and listen.

Odd guy, Bruce Forman. Stretching jazz concepts way out when he does a trio, and sticking close to the bone when it’s Cow Bop time. Both work.

Bruce Forman