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Mugstar + Damo Suzuki – Start From Zero

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Mugstar + Damo Suzuki - Start from ZeroRecorded live with no rehearsal, as is Damo Suzuki‘s way — he makes a habit of not meeting or playing with the group who will act as his ‘sound carriers’ before the night of the gig — Start From Zero does just that.

Mugstar demonstrate their  proficiency as space rockers extraordinaire in a churn of muscular drums and wibbling synthesizers from the get-go. While there’s a certain inevitable lurch into the sort of free-form jam band workout that playing with Damo so often inspires — the urge to drop into “Mother Sky” seems always palpably present in his backing band whenever Suzuki plays live — Mugstar keep their playing restrained and spare for the bulk of “Subway Sound”, giving Suzuki the space to let his vocals breathe and unwind spaciously. But then “Zero Coda” steams in on a raft of rollicking rhythms and a synth drone which nags at the high end before folding easily into the rock’n’roll groove like it was shuffling into its comfortable, familiar slot.

It’s here that the album really starts to burn, and as is so often the case with Damo’s gigs, once the band have the place where their way and his meld, the meshing which occurs soon assumes a timelessness, an ur-Suzuki quality perhaps, where whatever he sings and intones, in whichever of his many languages, it all becomes part of a greater gestalt unending performance. This is his unique gift, and once again makes Damo’s insistence on never pre-planning anything pay off, in spades, with hearts and occasionally diamonds too. He’s also fortunate in having Mugstar at the musical controls, because their assured performance lets the whole gel, as it has done in the past when Damo has played with the likes of Now, Cul de Sac and of course his own Network, with or without Can compadres Jaki Liebezeit on drums and the inimitable Michael Karoli on guitar.

The meaty energy which Mugstar bring to the session matches the growls and horizon-scanning, beatific aspects of Suzuki’s vocal style well; and while there is more than a hint of Can’s enduring legacy to the wah guitar and Steve Ashton and Jason Stoll‘s cycling rhythms, there’s something of the Velvets too about the music. About half way through, Peter Smyth  and Neil Murphy really let themselves fly, not so much into space, but into shards of fiery guitar klang and string-mangling burns, the keyboards flurrying as the ensemble’s propulsive force is ramped up further and further until it seems like the band will crack under the sheer weight of their own forward motion. One of the signs of a really good improviser is knowing when to take a back seat, to pedal down and listen, and for a long stretch of impressively outré musical fireworks, Damo does just that.

With so much energy rippling around him, Mugstar’s coruscating atonalisisms battering like wave upon wave of electrical energy set free to spark from player to player, it’s possible to envision the diminutive form of Suzuki, head down and rapt in concentration and lost deep in the music his presence has engendered When his words tumble back in as the mania dissipates, it’s like he knew just where and when they would. As if they had rehearsed, as if there had been a lead up to the here and now, the then that this LP preserves for a truly shaken-down posterity. But who really needs to practice beforehand, when that could possibly have ruined the exhausting fun which Mugstar and Damo Suzuki brought to Liverpool on the night which Start From Zero so magnificently commemorates?

-Richard Fontenoy-

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