3 ASSASSINS Deniz Tek & Scott Morgan (Career Records)
None of the 14 tracks on this live document of the 2001 northern summer tour of France and Italy will be unfamiliar to fans - but don't let that deter you. Fact is, you've never heard these tunes played with such a brutal backline putting a figurative hot poker up their rear end. This stuff sizzles!
The 3 Assassins are bassist Romano Pasquini, brother Pippo on drums and guitarist Stefano Costantini, also known as The A-10. Their reputation for intense Rock Action precedes them (although being Italian is probably why I've never been able to track down their back catalogue the albums are thin on the ground). The other two blokes probably in the tour van probably don't need an introduction.
What began as a Deniz Tek tour with The A-10 in tow expanded to include the mercurial Mr Scott Morgan, green-eyed Michigan soul veteran with a long and distinguished record in seriously great guitar rock. The set list all but picked itself. No Birdman present, but five Sonic's Rendezvous songs, a Hydromatics number and three Tek solo selections made the cut. An MC5 cover and two from the Stooges squeezed their way onto the two shows from which this album was culled. Fitting choices for two guys from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
With precious few rehearsals under their belt, the band sounds amazingly together. For the most part, it's an express train trip with the only stop being a deft working of Tek's "Give It Up". As brutal as they can be, the band manages to ease off when required. (Listen to the breakdown in "TV Eye"). There's the odd missed change but that only adds to the live experience. With three guitars at work, there's no shortage of overdriven leakage, harmonic distortion and general aural carnage. It sounds amazing, with a superbly balanced mix (hats off to recording engineer Eliseno Sposato and mixer Jean-Charles Bedon).
Messrs Tek and Morgan first worked together when Deniz, back in his hometown of Ann Arbor while on a break from studies in Australia, was invited to sit in with Sonic's Rendezvous Band. The well-meaning but sonically flawed "Dodge Main" album found them in the studio together 20 years later. Deniz went to guest on The Rendezvous Band ('99) show and co-headlined with Powertrane on a Midwest tour in 2000. The neat synergy here is that Scott Morgan fronted the first real band Deniz ever saw, at Fairfax Junior High in Ann Arbor way back in '67. So this album is a coming together of two generations - or three if you count the A-10.
And as a school reunion across different scholastic years it's more than worth the price of admission. Morgan possesses a magic set of pipes. "3 Assassins" has him in full rock mode, rather than soulful reflection, but that's fine. The Iceman wrings the usual complement of spiraling lines out of the illustrious white Epiphone and delivers some excellent vocals (most notably on "Shellback" and a staggeringly sharp "Agua Caliente - surely the most underrated cut in the solo catalogue). And the local lads around them sound like they're having a ball.
There isn't an issue with Scott Morgan airing Sonic's Rendezvous Band tunes in a context other than the original. He did write a goodly chunk of them, and hearing them properly recorded for the first time by the Hydromatics was a revelation. It's a close run thing whether these versions shade those of the Hydros - but in the end, it hardly matters. They all need to be heard. Loud.
There's an unwritten law that "City Slang" should be played simultaneously by as many guitars as possible. It probably stems from the original's multi-tracked excesses and the desire of any player with a modicum of musical taste to get down and dirty on one of the greatest tunes ever penned. This version doesn't disappoint, even if the lyrics remain a mystery and there's a bit of re-working evident on the bassline. It ranks right up there with the pending Hydromatics live version (due out some time in '04).
No surprises here but once you slip this into the player, you might just find yourself reaching for the replay button. Live like it should be. The Barman
ANN ARBOR REVIVAL MEETING - Scott Morgan's Powertrane featuring Deniz Tek (Real O Mind)
Pure, unadulterated rock and roll is a powerful thing in the live setting. Exhibit A is this disc, Your Honour. It's not hip hop and there's not a trace of sampling to be heard, but if you'll excuse some anatomical wordplay I'll submit that it's music with balls played from the heart and it deserves your immediate attention.
Scott Morgan shouldn't need an introduction but he does in many places and that's a shame. He paid his dues with inestimably great Michigan beat-stompers-turned-white-boy-soul outfit, The Rationals, in the '60s, should have struck gold as a member of the criminally underrated Sonics Rendezvous Band in the '70s, and led his own Scott Morgan band in the '80s, combining soul and power rock. A mutually beneficial teaming with the Hellacopters in the '90s spawned The Hydromatics, a class vehicle to be sure but one that's scarcely known outside the European back blocks. Powertrane is Scott's current project, equipping him with a manic engine room in Andrew Frost and Chris "Box" Taylor and a hot shot guitarist in Robert Gillespie. Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek, ex-Stooge Ron Asheton, crazed vocalist Hiawatha Bailey (of the Cult Heroes) and veteran singer Mitch Ryder have joined them for various live dates.
This disc captures one night at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig in November 2001, with all but Ryder from the aforementoined list joining Powertrane's proceedings. The album's name comes from a piece of Tek patter (everybody gracing the stage being A2 alumni) and pretty well sums things up. There's a religious fervour to this. It might be preaching to the converted, but there's always a chance that the word might spread and inspire someone, somewhere to pick up a guitar and do likewise. Just as various influences did for these guys.
There are parallels with the 1981 supergroup (love that term) that was New Race, comprising as it did former Birdman, MC5 and Stooges members for a one-off tour of Australia. Granted, it's not as maliciously focussed as their disc, "The First and the Last", but that band was a little more road hardened by the time their recordings were put down and the disc was substantially tinkered with in the studio. The point is that New Race was a gathering of the tribes, and a validation for Birdman of what they'd done by elder statesmen joining them on stage. It's not being too indulgent in saying that there's a bit of that happening with Powertrane and that "A2 Revival..." is just as substantial an event in its own way.
But on to the music and Powertrane is a three-headed guitar machine for most of the journey. That could have been one axe too many, but for some judicious playing and a mix that gives each room to breathe. As Deniz said to the Bar's Ken Shimamoto in a post-Powertrane tour interview, there's almost an orchestral thing at work when he, Gillespie and Morgan get it on. Witness Tek's own "Hangin' On" which, in these hands, serves as a blank canvas for the guitarist to go weaving another version of that stinging guitar line.
"Shellback" takes on a new power before Morgan weighs in vocally on the bridge to lighten the load. "Taboo", a tune Gillespie wrote with Rob Tyner and which appeared on the latter's solo album, is worth hearing and gets an outing here, while three contemporary Morgan/Hydromatics songs ("R.I.P. R & R", "Runaway Slaves" and "Ready to Ball") are righteously rolled out in rip roaring style.
Of the tunes to make the cut from Sonics Rendezvous days, "Dangerous" lacks ferocity (and I'll make a case that "What Gives?" also lacks the electroshock edge that Birdman gives it) but we're talking degrees on both counts.The angular guitar attack of "Love to Learn" lacks nothing when stacked up against the Sonics rendezvous Band or Hydromatics versions and a storming "Outside" - the traditional Deniz Tek Group set closer - caps things in fine style before the run home through a quintet of classic Stooges songs. If hearing Powertrane churn these out (The Iceman and Hiawatha capably handling vox) with the additional sting of Ron Asheton on board isn't your idea of a Musical Wet Dream, you're reading the wrong review.
Rooted in the past? Undoubtedly, even allowing for the contemporary contributions from the catalogues of Morgan and Tek. But with Real Rock and Roll becoming an endangered species, sometimes a return to the past can cast a light towards the future. - The Barman
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