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Reviews

Stinkhorn — Stinkhorn
((Not on label) no#, 1997, CD)

Stinkhorn — Tunguska
((Not on label) CD002, 2001, CD)

Stinkhorn Cover artTunguska Cover art Stinkhorn was one of Seattle’s most challenging modern jazz quartets, blending John Zorn style motifs and English fusion approaches. Strong comparisons to George Cartwright and Curlew can be made across the group’s two studio recordings. The band’s first self-released recording is a balanced set of compositions and collaborations by all members of the band. Guitarist Brian Heaney was perhaps the most visible presence in the group along with saxophonist Michael Monhart. By navigating between heavy jazz-rock moods and grounded by a capable low end rhythmic structure the band established grooves and allowed for natural improvisation to ooze out. Monhart’s “Spotless Pots” begins with an ambient mode for his tentative free flights before the ensemble gradually adds angst and sonic frustration. Heaney’s “Little One” is relies on a prominent bebop phrase and captures an air of British jazz-fusion that many will relate to. Drummer Howard Ouchi’s contribution, “Otamura” is a melodic duet between percussion and sax, with sax carrying the weight of the lead line against lead guitar fade ins. Closing out the disc is a funky piece of rock entitled “Reasons” where the group interplay is especially strong with Monhart’s frantic leads recalling the fire of the late Elton Dean’s spirited delivery. The quartet’s follow-up CD was a strong step forward further consolidating their unique fusion identity. The songwriting is better defined as heard from the opening title track where both Heany and Monhart’s unison lines leads a no holds barred into a class restrained main section. Monhart’s blistering timing is good as the band propels itself into realm occupied by Phil Miller’s In Cahoots. Heany’s piece “Sonny’s Delight” (assumed to be a tribute to Sonny Rollins) contrasts well with Monhart’s compositions such as “Awa Nights” and “Mongolian Pig Driver”. The first track is a lush tone poem while the latter song relies on some overdriven guitar cadenza to phase into some brash woodwind based controlled chaos. Bassist John Morris supplies three memorable pieces as well of which “Summer Salt” and “Ancient Baby” hold my attention. The former composition is characterized by a strong bass line that lays the best ground work for Heaney and Monhart to mine on top of. “Ancient Baby” is also an intense piece of angst as the quartet’s improvisational level gets further out but Monhart’s Rollins-like play keeps the piece in check. In closing, the group was one of the great local discoveries for the first Progman Cometh festival in 2001 performing much of this material. They disbanded to reform as Sunship in 2003 and are still playing in Seattle today.

by Jeff Melton, Published 2006-05-01


Stinkhorn is a Seattle jazz group with more than a little rock in their stylistic bag. Not quite as much as Kilgore Trout (reviewed in #16), but way more than is typical these days. They also have a fondness for odd meters, and not even a hint of “smooth jazz.” The four-piece consists of Brian Heaney on electric guitar, Michael Monhart on saxophones, John Morris on bass, and Howard Ouchi on drums. Heaney’s guitar is the first thing you notice, with a crunchy distorted edge, mixing dissonant noises, power chords, and quick runs that sound like they’re at the very edge of control, or even a little beyond. This makes for a great contrast with most jazz guitarists, who tend to sound over-rehearsed even when they’re improvising. Heaney does back off and play the supportive role too, with unusual ringing voicings and repeated patterns. But the guitar is not the only lead instrument. Monhart holds his own, contributing some great solos and melodies. He also pushes the limits of his instrument, squawking and overblowing from time to time, never resorting to warmed over blues clichés. Morris provides solid backing, anchoring the sometimes awkward riffs while Ouchi plays fairly freely, avoiding the trap so many drummers fall into with odd meters: repeating a small set of patterns. Improvisation offsets tighter arranged sections, and the pieces are never predictable. The band is great live, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

by Jon Davis, Published 2000-10-01


Back in #20 I reviewed the debut by this Seattle jazz group. I’m happy to say that this second release, Tunguska, is every bit as good as the first, and maybe better. Stinkhorn’s personnel and basic sound remain unchanged: loose jazzy grooves with wild guitar and sax offset by freer, more chaotic sections. One thing they do is lay down a driving, slightly off-kilter groove with Howard Ouchi’s drums and John Morris’s bass, then top it with a straggly unison line between Michael Monhart’s sax and Brain Heaney’s distorted guitar. When they’re done with the head, it’s off into solo territory, and when these guys solo, they don’t go for tons of notes spewed out in dexterous, hyper-rehearsed scales. They work their ways to the outskirts of the instruments for maximum intensity, not afraid of dissonance at all. Always unpredictable and never content to stick to convention, Stinkhorn embody what I like most in jazz. In spite of the often-mangled guitar sounds, the music doesn’t really resemble rock in the least. Ouchi’s drumming in particular is much looser and freer than most of what you hear these days, allowing the rhythm to be a matter of group consensus rather than everyone sticking with his law. Tracks tend to be short and flow together, reminding me of Soft Machine back around 7. Soft Machine is probably a good comparison: take that band and swap guitar for the keyboards, add some chaos, and you’re in Stinkhorn’s ballpark, but not in a derivative way.

by Jon Davis, Published 2002-04-01


Filed under: New releases, Issue 33, 1997 releases, 2001 releases

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