MALACHY PAPERS: “Malachy Papers with Earl Harvin” ****

Recorded 2004



Some time in the mid-1990s, Kansas City-based saxophone player and horn sculptor Mark Southerland began to collaborate with percussionist extraordinaire Mike Dillon.  They shared taste for jazz and blues classics as well as contemporary groove revivalism.  Fascination with Art Ensemble of Chicago correlated with their predilection for striking costumes, masks and props. 


Several bass players performed and recorded with the band, notably Bill McKemy.  In more recent recordings, they were joined by Johnny Hamil. 


Southerland operates a whole storeroom of unique horns of his own making, generating highly original, idiosyncratic textures.  His Kirk-ian salvos are interspersed with lateral effects from Dillon’s extensive weaponry of idiophones.  Cognizant of half a century of American musical tradition, they lay out dense grids of largely representational and yet path-breaking ceremonials.  It is therefore not surprising that they forged an occasional collaboration with Eugene Chadbourne.


Their output is not easily available and it is unclear if Malachy Papers are currently in existence. 




What’s Wrong with Butt Fungus

A lattice of saxophones, magnetic samples and nonlocal drumming greets visitors with lunatic abandon.  The horns, endowed with heterotropic tone colors, fall into a dance mode before the vitriolic, repressive onslaught resumes.  Blown-out squeal, squawk, blare and peal crowd out other contributors with dogmatic precision.  A resolutely bewildering entrée.


Four Titted Puppet

True to its title, this track opens in a more playful manner.  Dillon’s vibraphone playing has this je ne sais quoi quality, as if lifted from a Jacques Tati movie.  The accents and theme progression are left to the horns, and they do smolder with nerve.  Hamil steps forward with a secular ‘modern jazz’ run on his acoustic bass.  Throughout the CD, Texan Earl Harvin will enrich the rhythmic palette of the band, showcasing a highly intuitive, yet thematic style.  His non-resonant cymbals engage here in an equiprimordial conversation with the vibraphone and tenor saxophone.  Harvin’s sense of space is impressive – his iterable rolls are carefully placed to allow for more pronounced vibraphone projection.  His non-metric accents are so complex that he abdicates the main tempo role, leaving Hamil’s bass to carve comfortable ostinato for Southerland’s fluent sax divagations. 


Brilliant Corners

A connotative take on Thelonious Monk’s immortal magnum opus from December 1956.  Harvin’s drumming appears here a lot tighter than the original, not because Max Roach was not fast and muscular (he was, both ballistic and virile).  Rather, Harvin’s playing is being underwritten by Dillon’s tabla, a very frontal presence once the initial theme has been laid out.  Hamil’s viscous, convex bass lines are to Oscar Pettiford’s walks what a modern treadmill is to rusty bicycle.  Southerland strays from the original, burrowing deeply in mid-size phrases.  The return of the main theme is surprisingly staccato, almost percussive, but Dillon’s tabla work is never excessive and reticulates perfectly.


Gimpy Ho

A downtempo opening with intrametric fill-ins from both Harvin and Dillon (on shakers) It leads to a stop-go dialogue between the two percussionists.  Southerland appears on discordant, plasmatic horn – or rather multistrata of horns.  The rotten, wrenching sound of his ‘bastard’ inventions is softened somewhat by Dillon’s marimba.  But soon the overdrive bass and drums go punk, with the horns frontloading a cavalry charge.  After a short lapse, Dillon does a little Ruth Underwood jig on marimba, but less for a colorful interjection that defined early- to mid-1970s Zappa sound, and more for prosaic beat-keeping.  The final cadence brings back the gnashing horns, muddling through with the illuminative accompaniment from the drums and overdrive bass. 


Solitude of Kim

Light percussion intro on dampened cymbals appears synchronous with left-hand tabla drum which abducts the entire low-end register of the percussive spectrum.  A quasi dub-bass grunts with low velocity and the ensemble is in full swing before Southerland’s horn zooms in.  The poetic theme will hinge on ambidextrous vibraphone, while the saxophone remains initially confined to surges and short repetitions.  With each sequence, its barks are becoming more articulate, cheerleading bolt-on swells.  It is as if the structure of the composition were to unveil the thematic component only gradually, until some final climax.  Throughout this iterative mobilization of sonic resources, the production remains very clear and the instrumental simultaneity easily legible.  The vibraphone returns, perfectly localized by Harvin’s selective, melodious drumming.  If Embryo were a jazz band, then this is probably how they could sound. 


Moon Germs

Joe Farrell’s 1972 classic is brought by sullied, overadjusted notes on vibes, followed by lavish percussive textures – metallic, brassy, scribbled, ombré.  Multi-tracked horns gulp and unleash a fury of pinched, shrill tones.  The vibraphone or glockenspiel cast long-lasting traces, leaving it up to the bass to maintain a thematic order.  But it is Dillon with his mallets who impersonates Hancock’s role on the original.  He sways perfectly between the improvised and scored sequences; his tremolos are purposeful and appropriately measured.  The bass-drums section is loquacious, but self-limiting.  The amazing horns are otherworldly – diverging into an unsightly asylum full of synthesized slates. 


Pagan Residue

This 9-minute composition penned by Hamil begins with a wooden-sounding sul tasto on G-string, setting off an eerie déjà entendu of an African drum call.  Harvin offers a radical re-reading of his skill on skins, initially eschewing any contact with metal.  Elsewhere, tubular bells, shakers, graters and sampled bleeps underscore the progression, distracting us from Southerland’s plaintive blowing.  When the bass engraves a pounding ostinato, the theme finally originates from the horns – like an industrial siren carried by the plodding, percussive engine.  Dillon extracts from his vibraphone muted reverb, almost swamped by the horn’s aggressive phrases.  Against the increasingly expansive, invasive drumming, the horn blowout calls for a final clean-up and the assembly line takes a breather.   Harvin’s drumsticks get more selective, and Hamil’s bass slumps into a monologue.  An electronically processed reed tone ends up skidding, rescued only by a clash with the percussive arsenal. 


Uncredited track

An unexpected ‘bonus’ offers a spectacle of environmental sounds, footsteps, and random clanging.  Nothing musical and even little non-musical material surfaces for about a minute.  Finally, a ‘lost in translation’ reed and vibraphone theme, interwoven by a delicate cymbal work reiterate a self-looping phrase.  The despairing bass is bowed and the melodic component seems to be based on a familiar theme, but I can’t recall what it is.  Context dependence?




The availability of Malachy Papers’ recordings is poor and I am yet to hear several of these:


MALACHY PAPERS: “Bone and Horn” (1998)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Adult xxx” (1999)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Demons” (2000)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Burning Parasols” (2001)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Blackbelly” (2002)

Eugene CHADBOURNE with MALACHY PAPERS: “And the Wind Cries Malachy” (2002)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Malachy Papers with Earl Harvin” (2004)


Mike Dillon has appeared in many other bands, notably Frog Brigade and Critters Buggin, but I have not heard any of them.


The band’s name is apparently a direct tribute to the bassist from Art Ensemble of Chicago.  Needless to add, Malachy Papers’ output should not be confounded with Malachi Favors Maghostus’ recordings.  Nor has the band anything to do with the acid raga folk act Malachi, which left one recording in 1966.

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